Courts & Crime

Modesto officials fight gangs with injunctions

Stanislaus County law enforcement leaders are looking for a new neighborhood to target with a gang injunction, a legal strategy they credit with disrupting crime in south Modesto.

Building a case for a new injunction, however, could take years because budget constraints are limiting law enforcement resources and manpower, officials from the district attorney's office said.

They're pleased with the results of the injunction they placed on a south Modesto gang seven months ago to curb the movements and behavior of more than 50 documented gang members.

That's why they want to expand the injunction to a different neighborhood where other gangs operate. Three areas are on the short list, with west Modesto rising to the top.

"Just based on what I know about that neighborhood, that's a very likely place for the next gang injunction zone," said district attorney investigator Froilan Mariscal.

A gang injunction is a civil lawsuit used by Stanislaus County authorities to limit activities of specific gang members within the zone.

If gang members are caught engaging in any of 14 banned behaviors inside the "safety zone," they're arrested and charged with contempt of court. The violation is a misdemeanor with a penalty of six months in jail and three years of probation.

Residents in west Modesto struggle with gang activity, intimidation and retaliation on a daily basis, as do residents in the south Modesto injunction zone.

But there is a difference between the neighborhoods. West Modesto has rival gang members living in the same neighborhood. One block can be claimed as turf by Norteños, and another block just a few streets away is claimed by Sureños.

"It's a battleground for territory," Mariscal said.

The neighborhood also has gang members from different groups within the same gang, who sometimes fight with each other over the right to sell drugs on certain street corners.

The district attorney's office could seek an injunction that encompasses multiple rival gangs and gang groups in one neighborhood.

"It just depends on if we have enough evidence to prove it in court," Mariscal said.

Modesto City Councilman Dave Geer represents the areas in the gang injunction zone in south Modesto and the west Modesto neighborhood targeted for a new injunction. He said he realizes an injunction in west Modesto is still a few years away, but just discussing the possibility could produce some positive results.

"We've got to do something to get these gangbangers to back off," Geer said. "Just the threat of the injunction might be enough to get these guys to fly straight."

The district attorney's office is considering two other areas for the next injunction zone: Modesto's airport neighborhood and the unincorporated neighborhood north of East Hatch Road and east of Highway 99 between Modesto and Ceres.

Mariscal said he favors west Modesto because of "the amount of gang members, the reports of crime, the quality of life and the concentrated gang activity in that area."

Modesto police Capt. Mike Harris said west Modesto would top his list, but the airport neighborhood could use the gang injunction as well.

Harris said west Modesto and the airport neighborhood each have many hardworking residents who live in fear of gangs.

"I wish we could do (gang injunctions) everywhere," Harris said. "It has to go where the biggest problem is. We can't just arbitrarily pick an area."

Harris said a new injunction zone in west Modesto could include the area bordered by Highway 99, Carpenter Road, Maze Boulevard and the Tuolumne River. But he said creating boundaries would be up to the district attorney's office, which would spearhead the effort for a new gang injunction.

Read the full story at at the Modesto Bee.