Arguments in Texas’ first gang injunction case closed Wednesday with attorneys debating whether the legal tool violates the civil rights of six individuals or could bring crime-weary residents in a Northeast Austin neighborhoods a measure of peace.
State District Judge Will Flowers is expected to rule on the permanent injunction today.
“We need to get these individuals out of this area . . . from hanging around together and selling their dope,” Assistant Travis County District Attorney Bryan Case said.
County attorneys on July 3 filed a precedent-setting gang injunction against the group members that would forbid them from carrying pagers, hanging out together or wearing known gang symbols. Defense attorneys say the injunction gives police too much power and makes the defendants subject to arrest for otherwise legal activities.
If approved, the six individuals would be prohibited for life from hanging out at businesses and apartment complexes at Cameron Road and Broadmoor Drive in Northeast Austin. The six are Shang Yahoshua, 21; Johnny Jefferson, 21; Derrick LeBlanc, 22; Percy Prejean, 19; Connie Milner, 25; and Ollie Nickols, 18.
“The injunction is an extraordinary remedy. It is not one of a set of legal tools. It is a last resort,” said Michael Simpson, attorney for LeBlanc. “There are five places in this city where there are bigger gang problems. The neighbors here are solving their problems themselves without the need of an extraordinary remedy.”
Neighbors on watch
Over the past several months, Northeast Austin residents have formed a crime watch program, encouraging neighbors to call police and report suspicious activity — especially around the businesses and apartment complexes at Cameron Road and Broadmoor Drive.
Police officer Jon Walker testified on Wednesday to what he called a regular business of drug dealing by some of the defendants — including Prejean, Yahoshua and Milner — in the parking lots of the Yemco gas station, the Quix convenience store and the nearby apartment complexes on Cameron Road and Broadmoor Drive. In particular, Walker said, “Connie is a resident-customer. She recruits other customers and makes the area a successful business area.”
Flowers approved the injunction on a temporary basis July 10. The district attorney’s office says it has encouraged change in the troubled neighborhood.
“We have seen the flowering of normal activity since these individuals are no longer there,” Case said.
But David Frank, Milner’s attorney, said the police’s desire to support neighbors in efforts to rid their communities of crime does not allow them to ignore the Constitution.
“If we impose martial law, we could wipe out crime overnight,” Frank said. “But that’s not what the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Constitution is all about.”
Other defense attorneys echoed Frank’s statements. Francis Williams Montenegro, Prejean’s attorney, likened the injunction to tyranny.
Opponents speak out
Donna Mulcahy, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who is representing Yahoshua, said the restrictions being sought are unfair and too vague. For example, she asked, how close do any of the defendants have to be near each other to violate the clause against gathering together?
“If what the state is seeking (through this injunction) is fighting crime . . . forbidding them from saying `2-3′ or `Courtland Click’ doesn’t fight crime,” Mulcahy said, referring to names of two criminal street gangs prosecutors say are operating in Northeast Austin.
Pioneered in Los Angeles a decade ago, the gang injunctions are a controversial civil court solution to a criminal problem. While prosecutors say the injunctions are an effective legal tool to help police fight crime, defense attorneys and the ACLU say the injunctions violate the defendants’ First Amendment rights by prohibiting them from wearing certain things or associating with certain people.
Copyright © 1998, The Austin American-Statesman
Angela Shah, Judge expected to rule on gang injunction today: Flowers to decide if precedent-setting legal tool is constitutional., 07-30-1998.