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Friday, January 29, 2010

Sureno 13 Hand Signs Blood Gangsters

gangsters, sureno 13, hand signsIn a legal first for the state of Minnesota, a Ramsey County district judge Friday ordered alleged members of a street gang to stay away from one another during the Cinco de Mayo celebration on St. Paul's West Side next weekend.

Judge Gregg Johnson granted the city of St. Paul's request to sue the Sureño 13 gang and limit activities of 10 of its alleged members in an effort to prevent gang violence at the event, which draws about 100,000 people every year.

City officials hailed the decision.

"This is an innovative solution to the problems that have arisen with gang activity in some of our neighborhoods," said Mayor Chris Coleman. "St. Paul is a safe city, and these injunctions are a proactive approach to send a clear message to gangs that we will not tolerate any violence in our community."

A 2007 state law allows for criminal gangs that engage in regular gang activity to be declared public nuisances. If that declaration is made, authorities have the right to pursue injunctions, according to the law.

Similar injunctions have been used in effect in California and Texas. Los Angeles currently has in place nearly 40 gang injunctions involving 57 gangs. Authorities say the legal actions have reduced crime and improved neighborhoods.

Critics say the injunctions violate individuals' constitutional rights and aren't as effective as other measures.

Johnson heard the city's argument Friday morning.

After the judge asked him whether he wanted to make comments on the constitutional issues of the request, City Attorney John Choi gave a brief statement in which he noted similar actions elsewhere, previous legal opinions, details on the city's proposed order and past actions by the gang.

Nobody spoke against the city's case during Friday's hearing, and no written submissions were made to the court.

Johnson wrote in his 14-page order that the city's request was "very limited and narrow in scope and clear in describing the conduct it seeks to enjoin."

The order will be in effect for 38 hours, from May 1 to 3, in an area bounded by Plato Boulevard, Ohio Street, Hwy. 52 and Sidney Street.

No gang signs, clothing

Under the order, the named members -- seven men and three juvenile males -- aren't prohibited from going to the event, but they can't associate with other known Sureño members. Among other banned activities are showing gang signs, wearing gang clothing, threatening people and recruiting people into the gang. A violation of the order could result in a misdemeanor charge.

A juvenile who was named in the suit attended the hearing Friday but didn't speak. He declined to comment to a reporter. None of the other individuals could be reached to comment.

Criteria used by police to determine whether someone is a gang member include self-admission, tattoos, clothing, past crimes and information from confidential sources.

An affidavit supporting the injunction includes the opinion of a St. Paul police gang expert saying the 10 alleged members belong to Sureño. But court documents do not detail their connections to the gang, and portions are blacked out.

Johnson agreed with the city that the 10 are "the most active and influential" in Sureño gang activities.

The city didn't need to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, just provide a preponderance of evidence.

'Gang injunctions work'

To make its case, the city documented 13 incidents over the past year of criminal activity linked to the Sureño gang, including a shooting after last year's Cinco de Mayo celebration.

The city filed its request at the end of March.

Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the ACLU of Minnesota, said the city's case was deep on allegations but shallow on facts. "They're trying to use civil law to get a criminal result," he said. "The standard of proof is ridiculously low."

Authorities have already discussed using gang injunctions in the future to protect community festivals, schools, sporting events and specific geographic areas, Choi said.

"By and large, these gang injunctions work," Choi said.

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