Tony's Bizarro World
Meanwhile, as even the judge acknowledged when he signed the order, many of the people named in the injunction deny being active Santa Nita members. Talk about Bizarro World: those who showed up to profess their innocence were immediately handed papers identifying them as gangsters; the DA will have a tougher time finding and serving papers to those who never showed.
"I make [the injunction] to be unconstitutional, pure and simple," said public defender Constance Istratescu, who represents one of the Santa Nita gang members named in the injunction. "You can be labeled a gang member without ever having committed a crime. . . . Law enforcement has all the tools it needs to fight crime in Santa Ana. They have the penal code and gang-enhancement charges."
Schroeder argues that the DA's office limited the injunction to apply only to those police had proved were active gang members. Activities such as using cell-phones were purposefully not included in the list of activities covered by the injunction because the DA's office wanted the order to survive legal criticism that the order was overly broad. "The things we're enjoining are pretty limited," she said. "We do recognize we took away people's First Amendment [rights], but we were very methodical. We put the curfew on there because we . . . prove[d] crimes occur between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m."
The DA's office targeted the Santa Nita gang not because it was the largest or most violent street gang in Orange County (it's neither), but for several other reasons, the first of which is geographical. "They have two rival gangs whose territory abuts it directly," Schroeder said. "There's been an increase in the number of violent crimes. It's a gang that goes back 40 years and is well-rooted in the community, and the residents themselves want it changed and have been going to the city council and police and complaining about the gang."
Attached to the injunction are 91 affidavits from police officers documenting their contacts with suspected Santa Nita gang members over seven months. Few of the affidavits describe violent crimes; the few crimes documented are mostly drug possession charges stemming from probation searches of suspected gang members' homes. The majority of the affidavits reveal that police stopped suspected gang members on the street, asked them if they belonged to the gang, and documented evidence of their membership—fresh tattoos, baby-blue clothing, belt buckles and even water bottles decorated with gang insignia. Meanwhile, the DA included only nine affidavits from local residents complaining about the gang—all of which are sealed to protect their identities.
"The reason we only submitted nine is we are afraid they'll be unsealed and we want to protect [residents] from retaliation," said Deputy DA Tracy Rinauro, Rackauckas's lead prosecutor against the gang. "People are terrified," she said. "Kids can't walk to school. The gang blocks their way and throws bricks at them and at people on golf carts. They lawn-mow their gang names at the [Willowick] golf course. They use narcotics and put graffiti on the restrooms."
Many residents told the Weekly they were either unaware of the gang injunction or unsure it would do anything to crush the gang.
Anthony Romero, a 26-year-old who works the graveyard shift at WalMart, has a nickname ("Studers") and a shaved head. That may be why he says he's a frequent target of street cops. He wasn't named in the injunction but says his two brothers were.
"The cops are always stopping me for no reason," he said. "Because I have no hair and I live here, you know, they always be stopping me and shit. The gang patrol are the worst. They are always asking me, 'Where are all the rest of the gang guys?' and where all of my friends are and I'm like, 'What the fuck are you talking about?'"
Hanging from a power line above his house were a pair of sneakers with the Santa Nita gang logo—an S with a backwards N—tied together by their shoelaces. On another street, a middle-aged man who asked not to be identified said he fears police will use the injunction to harass residents. "I am worried," he said. "Am I going to be stopped? What are they going to do? Everybody is going to be affected. This is a blanket effect."
The man's brother, who also asked not to be identified, said he moved out of the area years ago and now lives in Huntington Beach. "I would never even think of raising my kids here," he said, adding that he's often stopped by police in the neighborhood because he drives a red Corvette; police routinely ask him if he's a drug dealer. "I get pulled over all the time."
An older man listening in said the neighborhood was dangerous after dark. "You have to be stupid now to go out that late," he said. He wasn't talking about gangs, but about a city that offers its poorer residents few of the perks available in wealthier communities. He pointed to a nearby streetlight as an example, a light he claims the city installed only after 50 people were hit by speeding cars.
"This is the norm here," he said. "What can we do?"
Additional reporting by Jane Yusim and Jordan Mastagni.
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