LA "Gang Injunctions" Ruled Unconstitutional
Updated: Aug 5, 2020
The city of Los Angeles has been barred from enforcing nearly all of its remaining gang injunctions, the latest blow to one of the city's oldest and most controversial law enforcement initiatives.
“The court clearly recognizes the way the city of Los Angeles has been enforcing gang injunctions over decades violates due process in a way that makes it likely they will place people on gang injunctions who may not be gang members,”
In a 22-page order issued Thursday, Chief U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips ruled that the American Civil Liberties Union is likely to prove that most of those subject to the remaining injunctions suffered a due process violation, since the city did not give them an opportunity to challenge the civil restraining orders in court.
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The order is believed to mark the first time a judge has blocked Los Angeles officials from enforcing the injunctions, which were born from a time in the late 1980s and '90s when gang activity in the city gained national attention. Their use has been credited by law enforcement with helping reduce gang-related crime.
The city's use of injunctions has been under increasing scrutiny since 2016, when the ACLU and the Los Angeles Youth Justice Coalition filed a lawsuit against the city.
Following an audit by the Los Angeles city attorney's office and the LAPD, 7,300 people were released last year from the conditions of the injunctions, which are civil court orders that can restrict someone from associating with friends, or even family members, in neighborhoods considered to be havens for certain street gangs.
Violating the orders can result in arrest.
Since 2000, the city has enforced injunctions against 79 separate gang sets, encompassing roughly 8,900 people, according to the city attorney's office. There were about 1,450 people still subject to the orders after last year's purge, according to a February court filing from the city attorney's office.
Thursday's order prevents the city from enforcing any injunctions that were granted before Jan. 19, 2018, though it can seek new ones provided that officials give targets a chance to challenge the orders in court before attempting to enforce them. Peter Bibring, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU, said the judge's ruling would leave few, if any, Angelenos subject to the orders.
"The court clearly recognizes the way the city of Los Angeles has been enforcing gang injunctions over decades violates due process in a way that makes it likely they will place people on gang injunctions who may not be gang members," Bibring said Thursday. "This ruling marks the end of gang injunctions as they worked in the city of Los Angeles."
In a statement, Los Angeles police officials said they would wait for guidance from the city attorney's office before discussing the ruling.
"As always, we respect the authority of the courts and will follow the court's decision, and will continue to keep the City safe while following the constitution and all applicable laws," the statement read.
A spokesman for the city attorney's office could not immediately comment on the court order.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing rank-and-file police officers, said in a statement:
"Appropriately applied, gang injunctions are a valuable law enforcement tool intended to improve the safety of Los Angeles neighborhoods and stem the tide of drug dealing, assaults, and other violent crimes associated with gangs," the statement said. "It's unfortunate that a judge would eliminate this important crime fighting tool instead of working to resolve any issues with its application. We urge the city to appeal this shortsighted ruling."