What’s a poor law-abiding person gotta do to get their name off a GANG INJUNCTION in this county?




[RE-POSTED from May 31 to July 1
because it appears Todd is addressing this problem now!
We’ll keep you updated…]

OC District Attorney Todd Spitzer should really, as part of his larger program of justice reform, provide a procedure by which a person who’s been “enjoined” by a gang injunction, but has lived a crime-free, gang-free life for a number of years, can have themselves removed from this life-and-liberty-impairing burden.  A procedure like LA and San Diego counties now have in place. 

The overuse and abuse of gang injunctions was a favorite tool of Spitzer’s predecessor Tony Rackauckas, and like all things he pursued them greedily and incompetently, trying to strengthen his cases by inflating the number of alleged gang members to include minors with spotless records and oldtimers who hadn’t been in trouble in years.  Three of his last four attempts to enact gang injunctions failed – Orange Varrio Cypress because he included so many innocent people who fought back, and two in Placentia that failed because he was “unable to prove ANY of the fifty people alleged to be gang members were actual gang members.”

As judges began to demand proof that each person was correctly accused, Tony’s prosecutors began to throw up their hands:  

“Gang injunctions have become overly burdensome.  The idea [was that it] was a short-cut way of putting a whole bunch of people on probation without giving them any protection, and that’s not what it is anymore.  If you have to give somebody an individualized hearing as to whether they’re a gang member, you might as well just bring an injunctive relief against just them.  If you have to have individualized hearings, why not have individualized cases?”

However there are still 13 Rackauckas-era gang injunctions in the county – from Santa Nita (2006) to Townsend Street (2014) – covering 652 men and women (as of 2018) many of whom may have been innocent from the beginning, and many more who have not been involved in a gang or guilty of a crime in many years.

How many of these 652 people should no longer have this shadow hanging over their lives?  Maybe around 42%, which is the precentage of people released recently from San Diego injunctions332 out of 799.  To be removed from a gang injunction in San Diego a person must have: 

  • Not had a conviction for a violent felony over the past 10 years;
  • Remained out of custody and had no criminal convictions for the past ten years;
  • and Not participated in any activity “that demonstrates continued loyalty to, or membership in, a criminal street gang for the past five years.”

Escondido’s Police Chief Craig Carter explained to PBS last year:

“Every law enforcement agency in the county wants individuals to disassociate themselves from the gangs and the activity that landed them on the civil injunctions. Police departments across the county are joining the DA in being proactive in removing individuals from these injunctions and we hope other gang members see this as a motivation to end their gang affiliation and become a productive member of their community. We want nothing more than to keep our youth from joining gangs in the first place.”

If a San Diego man or woman feels they shouldn’t be part of a gang injunction, there’s a clear procedure than can go through – they just fill out a form on the DA’s website right here:  https://www.sdcda.org/preventing/gangs/petition-for-removal-from- gang-injunction.pdf, and it gets reviewed pretty quickly.

BUT if someone from Orange County goes to THEIR district attorney’s website, there’s nothing!  If you search for “gang injunctions,” even for a little information about what areas they cover, you get nothing.  Even if you search the site for the word “gang” nothing comes back.

I’ve spoken to a young man, who tried doing that, a young man who wants to remain unnamed in this article (although Todd knows who he is.)  This guy has been included on one of OC’s oldest and largest injunctions since 2006, when he was 23.  And his little brother as well, who was 21 at the time. 

He DID have a conviction for assault three years earlier in 2003 (when he was 20) and then a conviction for possession which was a parole violation,  On the other hand, his little brother had a perfectly clean record when Rackauckas’ men stormed into their home in the middle of the night as they do, serving them both, as well as over a hundred of their neighbors, with thick stacks of gang injunction papers.  Ever since then it’s been illegal for him to be seen with his brother or many of his neighbors, to be out past an impossible 10-6 curfew, and much much more.

But his youthful indiscretions were as passing as many of ours, he was discharged from parole in 2009, and hasn’t been in trouble since.  For eight years he’s held the same respectable job, and he’s got a wife and kids.  But to get to his work at 5am he has to break curfew which is still illegal for him, and one local cop likes to tease, harass, and threaten him over that.

Finally exasperated, he began googling – How do I get off a gang injunction?  And in Orange County there was no answer, just a link to Chicanos Unidos, a grassroots organization devoted to fighting gang injunctions, with which I’m involved.  And C.U. has helped the two brothers by preparing a petition for removal and connecting them with DA Spitzer, who’s being helpful so far, but we’re sure there are dozens more besides these two who deserve a new chance at life and liberty.  I asked him, “Do you know anyone else who shouldn’t be on a gang injunction?”  and he answered “Yes, probably half the people in my neighborhood who were served back in 2006 weren’t even gang members then!”

Spitzer with the Ochoas, explaining the injustice Rackauckas had done to them.

[NOTE – I have illustrated this story with stock photos of latinos and latinas with responsible jobs, because probably close to 100% of folks under OC gang injunctions are latinos and latinas – we have no injunctions on Asian or white gangs, and this county doesn’t have enough black folks to make up a gang!]

I’m sure that DA Todd Spitzer, the defender of wrongly-accused James Ochoa who was railroaded by Rackauckas, will approach this issue with a spirit of fairness – there are MANY good folks in this County who deserve a new chance!


P.S. Here is San Diego DA Summer Stephan, a friend and colleague of Todd’s, explaining how important it was to her, to give these folks a new shot at justice and liberty: 

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.