Civil gang injunction granted against warring criminal street gangs in Visitacion Valley

Court order restricts activities of 41 members of ‘Down Below Gangsters,’ ‘Towerside’ in safety zone encompassing both turfs

SAN FRANCISCO (Sept. 30, 2010) — A San Francisco Superior Court judge has granted a petition by City Attorney Dennis Herrera for a preliminarily injunction against two warring criminal street gangs that have long terrorized San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley neighborhood. The order issued this morning by Superior Court Judge Charlotte Woolard will prohibit an array of gang-related nuisance conduct by 41 adult members of the Down Below Gangsters and Towerside Gang within a safety zone covering less than two-tenths of a square mile. Law enforcement experts believe the ongoing gang war to be responsible for at least ten homicides in the area in the last three years.

Court order preliminary injunction restricts activities of 41 members of the Visitacion Valley gangs.
Court order preliminary injunction restricts activities of 41 members of the Visitacion Valley gangs.

The civil gang injunction bars identified 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, which must be served on each identified gang member before it may be enforced against him, additionally prohibits the possession of drugs and graffiti implements, and the visible or readily accessible possession of guns and other dangerous weapons 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.

“I’m grateful to the court for carefully considering the overwhelming evidence of gang-related lawlessness and violence, and for granting an injunction that will hopefully enable Visitacion Valley families to live in peace and safety,” said Herrera. “This neighborhood has been caught in a crossfire by warring criminal street gangs for three years, and the adult gang members identified in this injunction clearly represent 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. It’s my hope that these 41 gang members follow a trend established by San Francisco’s other enjoined gang members, and cease their lawless conduct. My office’s opt-out procedure remains in place, and I welcome the opportunity to work with community-based organizations to end the cycle of violence and create safer neighborhoods.”

Herrera’s civil litigation, which was filed on Aug. 5, extensively detailed 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 gang war 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 lawsuit additionally alleged 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 court-ordered safety zone now in place as part of the preliminary 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 The civil gang injunction obtained by the City against the Visitacion Valley-based street gangs incorporates 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: The civil gang injunction granted today against the Down Below Gangsters and Towerside Gang 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, 134 adult gang members are currently subject to San Francisco’s four existing gang injunctions. No juveniles have ever been named in any of San Francisco’s civil gang injunctions. Tracking arrest data since the imposition of previous gang injunctions, Herrera’s office has observed a general “cooling off” effect among named gang members, 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 observed a migration of gang-related crime or nuisances to adjacent or different areas, as evidenced by citywide arrest data and observations by gang experts from the S.F. Police Department. “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 thankful to the Gang Task Force of the San Francisco Police Department, under the leadership of Police Chief George Gascón, for the 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 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 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.