Legal Analysis Details Violations of California Constitution, City Charter, State Law in Secret ‘Gang Injunction Review Council’ Scheme
SAN FRANCISCO (Jan. 2, 2008) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera today strongly criticized draft legislation by Public Defender Jeff Adachi that would guarantee priority status to members of criminal street gangs for City services that have traditionally sought to assist such vulnerable populations in San Francisco as foster children and at-risk youth, crime victims, immigrants, seniors, people living with disabilities, and others. The proposed ordinance would additionally create an extra-judicial “gang injunction review council” scheme that, according to a detailed legal analysis Herrera provided to members of the Board of Supervisors today, would clearly violate provisions of California’s Constitution, Public Records Act and Brown Act; San Francisco’s City Charter and Sunshine Ordinance; and state law granting the City Attorney exclusive authority to pursue actions on behalf of the people to enjoin public nuisances and illegal business practices. Included in the draft legislation Adachi faxed to members of the Board of Supervisors just before Christmas is a section entitled “Prioritization of City Services,” which specifically designates gang members whose criminal and nuisance conduct has been enjoined by courts through civil actions successfully pursued by Herrera’s office. City services for which these criminal street gang members would receive priority, according to Adachi’s proposal, “include, but are not limited to, all City funded economic development, employment, vocational, educational, housing, asset building, mental health, drug treatment, and social service programs.” The Public Defender’s draft legislation would additionally create a series of 10-member “Gang Injunction Review Councils,” which would meet in secrecy and be unaccountable to public scrutiny, to determine whether to permanently remove enjoined gang members from the court-ordered provisions of civil gang injunctions. Membership in each of the councils would consist of three appointees by the Mayor and seven appointees Board of Supervisors, but would be largely restricted to certain non-profit interest groups, some of which have represented the most vocal and fervent core of political opposition to gang injunctions in San Francisco. The councils Adachi proposed offer no parallel membership requirements for victims of gang violence, their families, or their advocates.
“At a time in which most of San Francisco’s leaders are working to responsibly address the crisis of gang violence, the Public Defender’s proposal sends an irresponsible message to law-abiding youth that the best way to gain local government assistance is to join criminal street gangs,” Herrera said. “I certainly applaud Public Defender Adachi for zealously representing his clients’ interests in court, but this draft legislation is ill-conceived and dangerous. The whole concept the Public Defender has proposed — of creating a body other than the court to change an injunction the court has issued — violates the basic separation of powers principle: only a court has the power to change a court order.”
Gang Violence in San Francisco in 2007
San Francisco just concluded a year with 98 homicides — the highest such death toll in a dozen years. Albert Collins, the City’s final homicide victim of 2007, was fatally shot New Year’s Eve day at the Sunnydale public housing project while shielding his 9-year-old daughter from a hail of gunfire. The girl, whose thigh was reportedly grazed in the attack, survived. Police investigators have identified the shooting as gang-related, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which went on to report that the assailant opened fire from a maroon four-door car, with three other men inside, before speeding off. Collins was an innocent bystander, according to police. He was 30 years old.
About Civil Gang Injunctions in San Francisco
In Dec. 2005, City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced his intention to pursue civil gang injunctions, which have been used with demonstrable success in other parts of California since the 1980s, to help stem the rising tide of gang-related violence plaguing San Francisco neighborhoods. As pursued by Herrera’s office, the cases involve civil litigation against criminal street gangs that seeks to enjoin only designated adult gang members from conduct that constitutes a public nuisance-including loitering, blocking traffic, vandalism, trespassing, drug trafficking and other nuisance activities. Violations of civil gang injunctions may be pursued civilly by the City Attorney, for monetary penalties and up to five days in county jail for each violation, or prosecuted criminally by the District Attorney, as a misdemeanor for up to six months in county jail. “Civil gang injunctions have proven to be a powerful tool to target and disrupt gang activity effectively and early, before it reaches the level of felony crime,” Herrera has said. “We recognize they’re not a panacea for all violent crime. But civil injunctions add a potent new weapon to the efforts of police and prosecutors to stem the tide of gang-related violence.” The civil gang injunction cases are: People of the State of California v. Oakdale Mob, S.F. County Superior Court No. 06-456517 (Judge Peter Busch), filed Sept. 27, 2006; People of the State of California v. Chopper City, Eddy Rock and Knock Out Posse, S.F. County Superior Court No. 07-464493 (Judge Peter Busch), filed June 21, 2007; People of the State of California v. Norteño, S.F. County Superior Court No. 07-464492 (Judge Patrick J. Mahoney), filed June 21, 2007.