A federal judge Thursday ordered police to stop enforcing gang injunction restrictions against an Echo Park man who denies any affiliation with a street gang.
“I feel like I am under house arrest, always worried that I will get arrested for violating one of the terms of the injunction,” the man wrote in a declaration filed in Los Angeles federal court.
It wasn’t clear how the judge’s order could affect other gang injunctions, and law enforcement officials refused to speculate.
Peter Arellano, 22, was served with a civil court order aimed at curbing the activities of six street gangs in 2015. The order restricted where he could go in public and with whom.
The gang injunctions, obtained by the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, prohibit a wide range of otherwise lawful conduct, including associating with other people the city asserts are gang members — even extending to immediate family — without a chance to contest in court accusations of gang membership.
A spokesman with the city attorney’s office said its lawyers were reviewing the judge’s decision and had no immediate comment. An LAPD spokesman said department policy prohibits comment on pending litigation.
In 2016, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and others filed a complaint against the LAPD and city officials on behalf of the Youth Justice Coalition, which has been advocating for residents they claim are unjustly accused of gang activity.
Arellano, the lead plaintiff in the suit, had been placed on a gang injunction without a hearing or any other formal chance to refute the accusation he was in a gang.
He wrote in his declaration that he has been stopped by police countless times in his Echo Park neighborhood since the age of 10 because he was assumed to be affiliated with the local Big Top Locos gang. “Police have assigned me several different (gang) monikers over the years, such as Pee-Dog, Listo, and Pee,” he claims.
The suit was brought as a proposed class action, representing nearly 10,000 Los Angeles residents. The preliminary ruling Thursday by U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips indicates that “the procedures the city used to determine alleged gang membership are likely unconstitutional,” according to the ACLU.
“For decades, the City of Los Angeles has used the same unconstitutional process to place thousands of young people of color under what amounts to permanent probation, without proving to a court that they committed any crime or are even in a gang,” said Kim McGill, organizer with Youth Justice Coalition.
Melanie Ochoa, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, said the city has found gang injunctions useful “precisely because it allowed them to put people under probation-like terms without bringing a criminal case or providing them any meaningful opportunity to fight the city’s allegations,” she said.
“The city has built this tool on a constitutional violation, and they need to stop using it,” Ochoa said.
Phillips set a Dec. 5 hearing to determine if the preliminary order should be permanent.
–City News Service