Three years after Santa Barbara’s gang injunction was first proposed, prosecuting attorneys have finally won access to about half the juvenile records they’ve long sought to make the case that the 30 alleged gang members — all adults — they’ve targeted with the injunction constitute “the worst of the worst.” Because state law regards juvenile records as highly confidential, lawyers with the District Attorney’s and the City Attorney offices have had to fight long and hard to persuade Judge Thomas Adams — the juvenile judge in South County — that the records should be released. Of the 9,000 documents sought — mostly police reports — Adams ordered roughly 5,000 released. Now it will be up to Judge Colleen Sterne to determine whether those records actually demonstrate what prosecutors, the city attorney, and law enforcement officials contend they do.
Thirty alleged gang members have been named by the proposed injunction, which if approved by Sterne would significantly limit their freedom of assembly and to congregate in public with other known gang members. Of the 30, 27 had juvenile records sought by prosecutors. Of those, Judge Adams ruled the juvenile records of one were totally off limits, and for another all the juvenile records would be made available. Of the rest, Adams issued mixed rulings, meaning some records were released and others were not. Adams has one remaining case on which to rule.
Because gang injunctions are civil matters rather than criminal, those named are not entitled to legal representation. All but eight had legal representation about their juvenile records. The gang injunction remains the subject of low-level but sustained community controversy. Some, like Police Chief Cam Sanchez, insist it’s necessary to protect young Latinos from being jumped into gang life, while others — like Councilmember Cathy Murillo — argue the resources needed to enforce a gang injunction could be much better spent on intervention and prevention programs.