The city of Los Angeles is a hotbed for gangs, as it is home to countless sets. In attempts to curb gang activity (i.e. violence, drug dealing, etc.), the city’s prosecutors and police have imposed court-ordered injunctions that prohibit gangsters from socializing with each other, carrying weapons and wearing their colors in certain areas. Nightly curfews have been a popular measure used to enforce these injunctions. However, such curfews have been deemed unlawful violations of civil rights, since folks with no gang ties have been affected. As the result of a class action lawsuit, the city of LA will pay up to $30 million to provide job training to gang members in these areas.
In 2011, attorney Olu Orange filed a federal lawsuit against the city for curfews imposed in 26 city injunctions that prohibited people from being outside after 10 PM. According to the LA Times:
In enforcing the curfews, police and city officials were willfully ignoring a 2007 California appeals court ruling that a similar curfew in another city violated individuals’ due process rights, Orange contended. In that ruling, the court found that an injunction against an Oxnard gang did not adequately define what it meant for someone to be “outside” during the hours of the curfew.
The wording was “so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning,” the court concluded.
Orange’s lawsuit stemmed from the June 2009 arrest of a teen living in the Mar Vista Gardens projects named Christian Rodriguez. Rodriguez was not a member of the Culver City Boys, the gang that roamed the area, but he was included in the injunction because his older brother was. He was arrested for violating curfew, when he was found on the handball courts with friends.
Criminal charges against Rodriguez were dropped in 2012. In turn, top brass in the police department ordered their officers to stop enforcing the illegal curfews. The Times reports, “Orange nonetheless pursued a broader class-action case on behalf of the roughly 5,700 people living under the gang injunctions with illegal curfews.”
Though the city’s attorney planned to notify folks that the injunctions were lifted after the 2007 appeals court ruling, it was not until years later that U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ordered the city to make notifications by early 2013. Orange’s lawsuit dragged on for years, until last year, when Gee ruled that the city had violated the due process rights of the people living under these injunctions. The ruling made a trial possible and she said she would instruct jurors to grant each of the thousands listed in the lawsuit with some payment.
Settlement talks commenced as the trial date approached. Orange, joined by attorney Anne Richardson and class-action specialist Dan Stormer, were gunning for $30 million in direct payments to each person living under the injunctions. Eventually, it was agreed that the city would use the money to fund nonprofits that would provide job training. The Times reports:
Under the terms of the deal, the city must commit at least $4.5 million and as much as $30 million over the next four years to nonprofit groups. The money will pay for people included in the lawsuit’s class to attend job training classes and apprenticeship programs. Some of the funds will be earmarked for tattoo removal for people looking to leave gangs and wanting to erase signs of their affiliation.
The city must also cover the plaintiffs’ attorney fees, which are expected to be as much as $5 million, according to the memo.
Furthermore, as a result of the suit, in future gang injunctions, “the city will include papers explaining that the outlawed provisions are no longer enforced as well as information on available social services and how to petition to be removed from an injunction roster.”
The total amount that the city pays depends on how many people actually come forward. Anyone affected by the gang injunctions included in the lawsuit is eligible to receive benefits, even if they were never arrested for curfew violations.