10/16/2007

Judge cracks down on violent Calif. gang

Related: 10 practical, tactical tips for safe contact with gangs

Demian Bulwa
The San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Thirty alleged Norteño gang members can't associate with each other in public, loiter outside after 10 p.m. or wear the group's trademark red within a wide swath of San Francisco's Mission District under a preliminary civil injunction granted by a judge.

In an order released Monday, Superior Court Judge Patrick Mahoney said the gang's movements can be restricted because the Norteños are a public nuisance, dealing drugs and grabbing territory through "violence, weapons possession, fighting and destruction of public and private property."

Residents and visitors to the 60-square-block area covered by the injunction, Mahoney said, are "subject to a repeated pattern of criminal conduct" by Norteños.

The ruling can be enforced as soon as the alleged gang members are served with written notice.

It set off another round of debate between City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who said anti-gang injunctions fail to address the reasons young people are drawn into gang life. The two sparred last month over activists' suggestions that such injunctions amounted to racial profiling.

Herrera sued the alleged Norteños in June after gaining his first permanent injunction earlier this year in Bayview-Hunters Point. In that case, two dozen members of the Oakdale Mob were barred from associating in a 4-square-block area.

Herrera has also sued three alleged Western Addition gangs he says operate near subsidized housing along Eddy Street. A separate judge has yet to rule on a preliminary injunction in those cases.

"I'm very gratified," Herrera said Monday after Mahoney granted the anti-Norteño injunction. "The message hopefully is going to go out strongly and clearly that we're going to do everything we can to keep our streets safe from gang activity."

Citing insufficient evidence of gang membership, Mahoney excluded two people from the terms of the injunction, including a man represented by Adachi's office.

Adachi said that Antonio Buitrago, 23, had no criminal record, but that city lawyers had accused him of being a Norteño because he associated with an alleged member, rapped about gang culture and was shot last year at a prayer service for a homicide victim.

"This raises the question of how many others would not be subject to the injunction had they had a lawyer," Adachi said.

Buitrago, in a statement released by Adachi, said Herrera "filed this injunction because he wanted to protect the people who were caught in the cross fire of gang violence. Well, I was caught in that cross fire ... and yet he used that against me to say that I was a gang member, when I never was. Is this how the city wants to protect people like me?"

Herrera replied, "The court didn't say (Buitrago) wasn't a gang member, but that there wasn't clear and convincing evidence that he was."

The city attorney said the other person who was excluded from the court order, a young woman, had come forward and convinced his office that she was not a gang member.

The city attorney's office must now file an application to make the Norteño injunction permanent. City lawyers can seek to add names to the list through the court, and alleged gang members can petition for removal.

Those who are subject to the preliminary injunction can be arrested in the 60-square-block zone of the Mission - and face up to six months in jail - if they engage in one of a number of restricted activities, including associating together and loitering between 10 p.m. and 5:30 a.m.

Other banned activities include intimidating witnesses, marking graffiti, forcing people to join the gang and preventing members from leaving it.

The earlier court order against the Oakdale Mob has resulted in the arrests of three alleged members on charges of violating its provisions. Their cases are pending.

Norteños are the street component of the Nuestra Familia prison gang that has warred since the 1960s with the Sureños, who are known in prison as the Mexican Mafia. Sureños typically wear blue, Norteños red.

Herrera said there are nearly 300 Norteños in San Francisco. His lawsuit restricts their activities in an L-shaped area stretching from Cesar Chavez Street to the south, Valencia Street to the west, Potrero Avenue to the east and 21st and 23rd streets to the north.

René Quiñonez, a former Mission gang member and drug dealer who now directs a nonprofit group called Homies Organizing the Mission to Empower Youth, said the injunction will further alienate young people who need better education and jobs.

"Ten years ago, I would have been on that list," he said. "The conditions that are forcing people into those street organizations are what we need to address."

Herrera said he believes the majority of Mission residents favor the injunction. He said providing better opportunities for young people and punishing criminal behavior "are not mutually exclusive."

"You can get at the root causes while, at the same time, demanding accountability," he said. "We have to do both."

Copyright 2007 The San Francisco Chronicle

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