Nearly three full years after its initial unveiling, Santa Barbara’s proposed and much-debated gang injunction will get its day in court sometime in the middle of March. At that time, Judge Colleen Sterne will determine whether the proposal — which would severely limit the rights of 30 named alleged gang members to freely assemble — is warranted and whether there’s sufficient evidence to conclude that those named pose sufficient risk to the community to justify the additional restrictions.
In response to growing concern of “mission creep” by activists critical of the proposed injunction, Assistant City Attorney Tom Shapiro asked Judge Sterne to strike the 300 “John and Jane Does” listed on the complaint beyond the 30 adults named. Although the inclusion of such “Does” is boilerplate language common to much civil litigation, it was seized upon by critics to suggest that what City Hall described as a very limited action would be far broader and open ended. The elimination, however, will do little to quell suspicions. As Shapiro readily acknowledged, if the injunction is approved, nothing precludes City Hall from adding additional people to the list. Their inclusion, however, would be the subject of a new court action and would have to be approved by a judge. Attorney Tara Haaland-Ford — who represents an alleged gang member named in the injunction — seized upon this fact. “They could paper the entire community,” she argued.
The issue became sufficiently contentious that Mayor Helene Schneider, a proponent of the injunction, wrote an op-ed piece that appeared in the Santa Barbara News-Press last week insisting that the injunction would be limited to just the 30 individuals named. Schneider also took the unusual step of criticizing a city councilmember by name — Cathy Murillo — accusing her of spreading misinformation about what the injunction would do. Murillo, the only councilmember to oppose the injunction, had been quoted in the media questioning whether the filing would prohibit named individuals from riding the same bus to classes at City College or taking their kids to schools. Murillo later elaborated that she had raised such questions on behalf of social-service providers who deal with at-risk youth. (At a City Council meeting in May, City Attorney Steve Wiley stated it would be “stupid” if the city sought to use the injunction in that fashion and stated no judge would ever approve it.)
Initially, Judge Sterne had suggested an earlier date to start the trial, but one of the lead attorneys arguing against the injunction had to be in Santa Maria representing one of the 30 who’s since been charged with torture and extortion in a gang-related drug ring. Haaland-Ford, however, said the facts would demonstrate that her client should never have been named because he’s a new father, taking classes, staying out of trouble, and “focusing on his family.”