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Monday, October 25, 2021

Court to decide fate of controversial West Sac gang injunction

Mark Merin, local defense attorney, will examine the current West Sacramento gang injunction at the annual Yolo Chapter of the Northern California American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) meeting this Thursday.

The West Sacramento District Attorney’s office has been in disagreement with civil rights lawyers and the ACLU for five years over the injunction in West Sacramento.

Merin will present “Should Freedom Have a Curfew?” this Thursday.

The injunction, which the West Sacramento Police issued on Feb. 3, 2005, targets an alleged street gang known as the Broderick Boys.

The injunction illegalizes members of the gang designated by the police from associating in public within the three-mile area bounded by Harbor Boulevard to the west, the Sacramento River to the east and near Highway 50 to the south. For example, it is illegal for two members to be on a bus together.

Alleged members are barred from public association even if they are related by family.

It is also illegal for the 400 people included in the injunction to be on the streets between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The ACLU charges that the injunction poses the risk of racial profiling, and Hispanics may be unfairly targeted by the police even if they are not involved in gang activity.

Merin will be representing Timothy Acuna in a trial set to begin on July 12. Acuna is a West Sacramento man who was served with an injunction notice while in jail on other charges. The ACLU and Merin said the prosecutions under the gang injunction are unconstitutional since offenders would be charged in civil court rather than criminal court.

Civil cases have a lower threshold of determining a defendant’s guilt than do criminal proceedings. For example, those charged in civil court do not have the right to be represented by a public defender and must pay for their own attorney. A violation of the injunction can result in jail time, Merin said.

“Criminal activity [in the area] does not a gang make,” Merin said. “Our position is that there is no gang, there is no public nuisance and the injunction is overly broad.”

Jonathan Raven, the deputy assistant to the West Sacramento District Attorney, declined to comment on the upcoming case due to the potential to taint a jury in the upcoming trial.

“The court-filed papers speak for themselves,” he said, referring to a 44-page ruling issued which upheld the injunction until July’s trial.

On March 8, Judge Kathleen White of California’s Third District Court of Appeals upheld the injunction in a preliminary hearing.

Key testimony was offered by West Sacramento Officer Joe Villanueva who is a gang specialist. He described the Broderick Boys as an organized and hierarchically structured criminal gang that has been operating in the area since the 1980s. Villanueva testified the group is responsible for a pattern of intimidation, violence and crime and poses a significant risk to residents in the area.

Merin presented testimony from 100 residents of the area who said they had not seen evidence of gang activity in their neighborhood.

California State University Sacramento Professor James Hernandez, who specializes in gang activity, said the name Broderick Boys simply indicated the group’s geographic home, including Broderick Avenue, and was not used by the defendants to identify themselves as a street gang.

Judge White said he was in favor of the District Attorney’s office, and said Merin failed to prove the injunction was overly restrictive or the gang did not pose a threat.

The West Sacramento Police Department supports the injunction. Lieutenant David Delanini said there has been a drop in violent crime in the area since the injunction began. Delanini said it was difficult to attribute public safety improvements to one program and emphasized the importance of community outreach, especially to younger residents who are at the most risk of being recruited into a gang.

“This is just one of the many tools we have for violence prevention,” said Delanini. “We also want to protect people’s civil rights. No one wants to live in a Gestapo state; that is why we have the court proceedings.”

The presentation on May 27 will be held from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Davis United Methodist Church fellowship hall at 1620 Anderson Road in Davis. NorCal ACLU Executive Director Abdi Soltani will provide a brief update of current ACLU activities.

SAMUEL A. COHEN can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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