Herrera seeks civil injunction against warring criminal street gangs in Visitacion Valley

Complaint begins process to enjoin 41 members of ‘Down Below Gangsters,’ ‘Towerside’ in safety zone encompassing both turfs

SAN FRANCISCO (Aug. 5, 2010) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera today filed suit against two warring criminal street gangs that have terrorized San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley for more than three years. The civil complaint filed in Superior Court this morning names the Down Below Gangsters and Towerside Gang as defendants in a civil action that seeks to prohibit an array of gang-related criminal and nuisance conduct by 41 adult gang members within a proposed “safety zone” covering less than two-tenths of a square mile.

Visitacion Valley gang injunction complaint presskit (Aug. 5, 2010)
Visitacion Valley gang injunction complaint presskit (Aug. 5, 2010)

If granted by the court, Herrera’s civil gang injunction would bar named gang members from engaging in intimidation, graffiti vandalism, loitering, trespassing, displaying gang signs or symbols, and associating with other gang members under most circumstances within the safety zone. The injunction would additionally prohibit the possession of guns and other weapons, drugs, and graffiti implements within the area at all times. Violations of such injunctions can be pursued civilly by the City Attorney, for contempt of court, or prosecuted criminally by the District Attorney, as a misdemeanor for up to six months in county jail.

“The residents of Visitacion Valley have been caught in a crossfire by warring criminal street gangs, and the injunction I’m pursuing today intends to put an end to it,” Herrera said. “This injunction names 41 adult gang members in two rival gangs, representing the most active and dangerous threats to public safety. As is typical in these cases, most live outside the community they’ve chosen to victimize. As the California Supreme Court majority held in its 1997 Acuna decision on gang injunctions, ‘Preserving the peace is the first duty of government, and it is for the protection of the community from the predations of the idle, the contentious, and the brutal that government was invented.’ The gang injunction we’re pursuing today asserts the right of Visitacion Valley families to live in the peace and safety to which they’re entitled.”

“The people of Visitacion Valley have a right to live free from the fear of gang violence,” said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. “This gang injunction is a necessary step that will give the City Attorney and San Francisco the tools they need to protect innocent families and clean up this vibrant community, so that once again, children can play outside, friends can gather together and people can be free to walk their neighborhoods without fear of being caught in a crossfire among rival gangs.”

“Gang injunctions like the ones City Attorney Herrera has successfully fought to put in place give law enforcement another important weapon in the fight against criminal street gangs who terrorize our communities,” said District Attorney Kamala D. Harris. “As the chief elected law enforcement leader in San Francisco, I consider this another vital tool in the prosecution of violent criminals. I thank the City Attorney for working with me to help keep San Francisco safe.”

Herrera’s complaint outlines a bloody rivalry that has raged since 2007 between the Down Below Gangsters, based near the Sunnydale Public Housing Development, and the Towerside Gang, based in the area of the Heritage Homes and Britton Courts Public Housing Developments. The ongoing war between heavily-armed gang members is blamed for at least ten homicides in the last three years, and has caused neighborhood residents to live in a virtual state of siege amidst murders and attempted murders, aggravated assaults, street robberies, and random shootings into inhabited dwellings and passing vehicles. Herrera’s complaint additionally alleges a pattern of gang nuisance conduct that is similarly intended to menace and intimidate law-abiding residents, including street level dealing of crack cocaine and other drugs, vandalism, loitering, public drug abuse, noise, car chases, impeding street and sidewalk traffic, and explicit and implicit threats against “snitching” — cooperating with law enforcement efforts to solve crimes or mitigate gang crime.

The Visitacion Valley proposed ‘safety zone’

The proposed safety zone for the civil gang injunction is an approximately .18 square mile “L” shaped area bordered by Schwerin Avenue, Visitacion Avenue and Hahn Street, and the Sunnydale Public Housing Development’s northern, western and southern borders, the latter of which then proceeds along Velasco Avenue. The safety zone encompasses both known gang turfs together with an adjoining buffer zone between and near the two turf areas.

Injunction to incorporate ‘Opt-Out’ procedure

gangs-visitacion-valleyThe civil gang injunction sought by the City against the Visitacion Valley-based street gangs will incorporate an administrative “opt-out” procedure, which was the result of a 2008 agreement Herrera’s office negotiated with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area to address concerns over gang members’ access to justice. The administrative “opt-out” process enables both individual gang members subject to existing injunctions and alleged gang members subject to proposed injunctions to voluntarily apply to the City Attorney’s Office for removal from the enforcement list. Individuals availing themselves of the administrative process retain full rights to petition the Superior Court directly for modification of the injunction, or to request exclusion or removal from the enforcement list by court order.

Other gang injunctions in San Francisco

Should the court grant the proposed injunction against the Down Below Gangsters and Towerside Gang, it would represent San Francisco’s fourth civil gang injunction, naming seven different criminal street gangs. Herrera previously secured injunctions against the Bayview Hunters Point-based Oakdale Mob in October 2006; the Mission-based Norteño gang in 2007; and the Western Addition-based Chopper City, Eddy Rock and Knock Out Posse gangs in 2007. In 2009, Herrera moved successfully to modify the Oakdale Mob injunction to add six new adult gang members to that injunction’s provisions. In all, 93 adult gang members are currently subject to San Francisco’s three existing injunctions. The proposed injunction in Visitacion Valley could bring the number of gang members subject to injunctions to 134. No juveniles are named in any of San Francisco’s civil gang injunctions. chart-gang-members-arrestedTracking arrest data since the imposition of each gang injunction, Herrera’s office has observed a general “cooling off” effect among gang members named in the various injunctions, with markedly fewer arrests citywide following the imposition of injunctions. Since Herrera launched the civil gang injunction program at the end of 2006, 46 percent of identified gang members (43 of 93) have gone without even a single arrest in San Francisco for crimes other than minor violations of the injunction itself. The data also show progressive improvements over time, with only 14 percent of identified gang members (13 of 93) arrested for non-injunction crimes so far in 2010 — down from 41 percent in 2007. To date, no injunction has resulted in an observable migration of gang-related crime or nuisances to adjacent areas or to different neighborhoods, as evidenced by citywide arrest data and observations by experts from the San Francisco Police Department’s Gang Task Force.

“The success of civil gang injunctions in San Francisco stems from an unprecedented level of coordination among policymakers, police and prosecutors,” Herrera added. “I am enormously grateful to Sen. Dianne Feinstein for the national leadership she has brought to this issue as author of the Gang Abatement and Prevention Act. I am thankful to the Gang Task Force of the San Francisco Police Department, under the leadership of Police Chief George Gascón, for the extensive work they’ve done to put these complex cases together and enforce injunctions. Sheriff Michael Hennessey and his department have been instrumental in enabling us to meet the court’s high standards to notice and serve identified gang members. Finally, we owe a great debt of gratitude to District Attorney Kamala Harris and her team of prosecutors for making gang injunctions work in San Francisco. They have brought impressive expertise and energy to bear in enforcing these injunctions criminally.”

The City Attorney anticipates filing voluminous declarations in the case next week in the procedural next step toward obtaining a civil gang injunction. Forthcoming documents will include the identities of alleged gang members together with extensive evidence supporting the City’s case. The case is People of the State of California v. Down Below Gangsters et al., San Francisco County Superior Court No. CGC-10 502262, filed Aug. 5, 2010.