SANTA ANA, Calif. – The Orange County District Attorney's Office dismissed the case against five clients of the ACLU of Southern California on Thursday after a Superior Court judge refused to include them on a preliminary basis under the provisions of a sweeping gang injunction. The case against 57 other individuals named in the injunction was likewise dismissed.
The case marks one of the few times that individuals named in a gang injunction have been able to obtain legal representation and defend themselves against the charge they are gang members and should have their activities severely restricted. It also calls into question how many other times young men and women around the region have been unfairly subjected to the overly broad restrictions typically imposed by gang injunctions, said ACLU/SC Staff Attorney Peter Bibring.
“This decision shows that the district attorney's „guilt-by-association - strategy won't stand up in court,” Bibring said. “By dropping the case against anyone who offered a defense, the district attorney has conceded the weakness of his case and that he cast too wide a net.”
Erika Vanessa Aranda, Louis DeHerrera, Patrick Philip DeHerrera, Roy David DeHerrera and an unnamed juvenile were among 115 people that Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas had designated in his proposed injunction as among the “most active participants in” the Orange Varrio Cypress gang. Rackauckas has accused the gang's members of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, terrorist threats, robbery, drug sales and other crimes.
“The district attorney would not have dismissed our clients – and so many others -- if there was any evidence that they were dangerous,” said Belinda Escobosa Helzer, a staff attorney for the ACLU/SC's Orange County Office. “Their dismissal undermines his earlier claims that the people named in the injunction were all active and dangerous members of a gang.”
In the case of Aranda, Rackauckas's office attempted to link her to the gang even though she has never claimed gang membership, has never participated in a gang and has never been convicted of a crime. The district attorney based proof of her membership on three minor incidents, including a charge of trespassing for walking through an abandoned building in a short cut to a school in her neighborhood.
Touted by law enforcement officials as tough and necessary crime-fighting tools, aggressive gang injunctions have been used largely in poor communities of color with little proven effect. They raise issues of racial profiling even as they criminalize everyday activities such as visiting parks and associating with family and friends. In pursuing the injunctions, law enforcement agencies have eroded community trust and endangered the constitutional rights of nongang members to move freely and associate with whomever they like.