LOS ANGELES—Gang injunctions that subject thousands of Los Angeles residents to probation-like conditions without a hearing violate due process rights under the United States and California constitutions and should be immediately suspended, according to a complaint filed today by the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU SoCal), the Urban Peace Institute, and the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP.
The complaint against Los Angeles police and city officials was filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on behalf of the Youth Justice Coalition, which has been advocating for residents unjustly accused of gang activity, and two individuals who were placed on gang injunction orders without any prior hearing on whether they were actually gang members—Peter Arellano, an Echo Park resident, and Jose Reza, formerly of Ramona Gardens. The case, which was brought as a class action, also seeks to represent the nearly ten thousand Los Angeles residents—mostly men of color—who were also served with the injunctions without a prior hearing or other opportunity to challenge accusations that they were gang members.
“The city’s use of gang injunctions criminalizes young people of color, as evidenced by the fact that all 46 injunctions target black or brown communities,” said Kim McGill, organizer for the Youth Justice Coalition. “The police label people as gang members and strip them of their basic Constitutional and human rights, severely limiting their access to employment, education, housing and other essential services.”
Gang injunctions are civil court orders obtained by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office that prohibit alleged “nuisance activities” of a gang in designated areas. The injunctions prohibit a wide range of otherwise lawful conduct, including associating with other supposed gang members, including immediate family; drinking alcohol in public, including in a restaurant; and wearing certain types of clothing. Violation can lead to arrest, fines, and up to six months in jail.
The city has obtained 46 injunctions by suing the gang entity itself as an “unincorporated association.” All of the injunctions were granted by default when the gang failed to litigate the case. LAPD officers and deputy city attorneys then make a determination behind closed doors and unilaterally to decide who should be subjected to the parole-like conditions of the injunctions, based on vague guidelines that supposedly indicate gang membership, such as whether a person wears certain brands of clothing, hangs out with other suspected gang members, or spends time in suspected gang areas. The city provides individuals no warning before service, no notice of what evidence the city has that they are gang members, and no opportunity for a hearing or any other means to challenge the allegations against them.
“The LAPD and City Attorney’s office use gang injunctions to flaunt one of the most basic principles of fairness in American law,” said Carmen Iguina, staff attorney at the ACLU SoCal. “Police and prosecutors shouldn’t be able to decide to arrest a person for ordinary activity like walking down the street with a friend or drinking a beer in a restaurant, just because they think someone is a gang member. Due process means that the government can’t restrict a person’s freedom without a hearing or other opportunity to be heard.”
Gang injunctions can have a devastating effect on the lives of those subject to them. The injunctions place people under threat of arrest on charges of violating the gang injunction for any number of day-to-day activities, including associating with their own family members or merely possessing such commonplace items as a highlighter. Many have lost jobs, educational opportunities, and even their housing as a result. “Getting off the injunction is not an easy task,” said Joshua Green, an attorney with the Urban Peace Institute. “The process can take years, and the decision is still entirely up to the City. Very few people succeed.”
The complaint names as defendants the City of Los Angeles, City Attorney Mike Feuer, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and other city officials. It asks the court to prohibit enforcement of the city’s gang injunctions until the city provides adequate process and to declare that subjecting people to injunctions in this fashion violates U.S. and California constitutional law.
“Not long ago, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Orange County District Attorney’s very same practice of subjecting individuals to gang injunctions without affording them any process was unconstitutional,” said Jacob S. Kreilkamp, a partner at the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, who was also co-counsel in that case, Vasquez v. Rackauckas. “It is a shame that the City of Los Angeles has forced us to bring suit when it should have just complied with the holding in that case.”