St. Paul is going to court to sue a street gang and to ban some of its members from associating with one another in a specific area, becoming the first Minnesota city to enlist so drastic a measure to prevent street violence.
The city has filed for a civil gang injunction, essentially a restraining order, against the Sureño 13 gang and 10 of its alleged "most-active and influential" members as a way to prevent violence during Cinco de Mayo Fiesta, to be held May 1-2. The event typically draws about 100,000 people each year from throughout the metro area and is the largest event of its kind in the state.
The gang was responsible for a drive-by shooting and numerous assaults and incidents of disorderly conduct during last year's Cinco de Mayo festival, according to court documents.
Although Cinco de Mayo is the first event being tested for an injunction, it's not the only target. There is likely to be a broader push by the city to curtail gang activity. For now, though, a judge has to approve the injunction request. A hearing is set for April 24.
"St. Paul is a safe city, and these injunctions are an innovative tool to send a clear message to gangs that we will not tolerate any violence in our community," Mayor Chris Coleman said Monday.
Similar injunctions have been in place for years in such cities as Los Angeles, Sacramento, Calif., and El Paso, Texas.
Authorities say the injunctions have reduced crime.
Critics say the injunctions violate individuals' constitutional rights and aren't as effective as other measures. However, several state court challenges against the injunctions have been unsuccessful. An anti-loitering ordinance aimed at curtailing gang activity in Chicago was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1999 because it gave too much power to police.
St. Paul City Attorney John Choi said St. Paul's action is different because of the judicial review.
What St. Paul is trying to do is establish that Sureño 13 is, in fact, a criminal gang and that it falls under a law that allows criminal gangs to be considered public nuisances. The city has the authority to seek an injunction if a nuisance is declared, and a judge must sign off.
The city has filed documents outlining 13 criminal activities committed over the past year that it thinks makes its case. Violating a gang injunction would be a misdemeanor.
Nine of the 10 alleged Sureño members have been served. Seven are adults, three are juveniles. Under the proposed order, the alleged members would not be allowed to do the following:
• Associate with one another or another known Sureño 13 member within the "safety zone."
•Confront or harass anyone who was a witness to or victim of a crime or complained about a crime committed by the gang.
•Show gang signs.
•Wear gang clothing.
•Threaten or harm former gang members or those who want to leave the gang.
At a news conference Monday to announce the filing, organizers of community festivals, including Rondo Days and the Taste of Minnesota, stood in solidarity with city officials, police and other leaders.
"I fully expect this will be successful," said Chris Romano, executive director of the nonprofit Riverview Economic Development Association, which organizes Cinco de Mayo.
Police Chief John Harrington called the Sureños a "particularly problematic" gang that is relatively new to the area but has been growing quickly and become more brazen.
The order would be in effect for 38 hours in a so-called "safety zone," an area bounded by Plato Boulevard, Ohio Street, Hwy. 52 and Sidney Street.
Because it's a civil matter, the city needs to provide only a preponderance of evidence, as opposed to proof beyond a reasonable doubt required in criminal matters.
Criteria used by police to determine whether someone is a gang member include self-admission, tattoos, clothing, past crimes and information from confidential sources.
An affidavit supporting the injunction includes the opinion of a St. Paul police gang expert stating the 10 alleged members belong to the Sureños. But court documents do not detail their connections to the gang, and portions are blacked out.
Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the ACLU of Minnesota, has problems with the city's action. He questioned why rival gangs who provided information to police about the Sureños weren't subject to injunction. He also said the alleged members don't have same availability to legal representation that they would if it were a criminal matter.
"We have a freedom of assembly," Samuelson said. "If the police have the ability to do this, what other groups are next?"
Chris Havens • 612-673-4148