LOS ANGELES (CN) — After six years of litigation, thousands of Los Angeles residents will soon receive as much as $30 million in job training and other benefits from the city for having been subjected to overbroad injunctions targeting suspected street gang members.
In a 10-page order on March 24, U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee gave final approval to a settlement that ends a class action accusing Los Angeles police of enforcing curfews in the injunctions long after such curfews were struck down as unconstitutionally vague.
The settlement will allow roughly 6,000 mostly black and Latino people from poor neighborhoods — all of whom had been served with one of 26 anti-gang injunctions — to obtain free education, job training and tattoo removal.
The city agreed to pay $4.5 million to $30 million over four years for the education program, which includes job placement services and in some cases monetary stipends.
The city will pay $150,000 a year for tattoo removal.
“I’m very hopeful the case will fulfill its promise to affect serious change in the lives of many Angelenos who’ve basically been written off,” said Olu K. Orange, the civil rights attorney and USC professor who spearheaded the class action against the injunctions, some of which date back to the 1990s.
Another attorney on the case, Anne Richards of the public interest law firm Public Counsel, said some people subject to the injunctions had never been gang members or had quit years before. But they “would still get stopped and harassed [by police] because they were still on the list,” she said.
Under the settlement, they can request a prompt hearing before a federal magistrate judge to be removed from the injunction lists altogether. That is “a benefit of significant value,” Gee said in her March 24 order.
“It’s interesting because it’s just a few pages,” Orange said of the court order, “but to so many people it will mean so much.”
Gang injunctions allow police to restrict gang activity by arresting suspected members merely for associating with one another. The injunctions are controversial because they can be very broad and are nearly impossible for gangs — which have no legal standing — to oppose.
The curfews challenged by the class barred suspected members from going outside from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. The result, Orange has said, was to turn parts of Los Angeles “into a Jim Crow-era ‘Sundown Town.’”
In a 2007 ruling on a separate gang injunction, a state appellate court struck down the curfew as “so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning.” Yet according to the class action, LAPD officers continued to arrest suspected gang members for violating the curfew years later.
Orange brought the class action against the city in February 2011 on behalf of two young men, Christian Rodriguez and Alberto Cazarez, arrested for curfew violations in 2009. Dan Stormer and other attorneys from Hadsell Stormer & Renick in Pasadena were co-counsel.
The case was heavily litigated over the next five years, including an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court. The two sides finally hammered out a settlement in March 2016.
“This settlement creates an innovative pathway for individuals served with gang injunctions to gain the job skills they need to turn their lives around,” Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said after the City Council approved the agreement. “It provides a positive approach with the potential to reduce gang violence and improve public safety.”
Orange said Tuesday that city officials supported the settlement.
“This is something the city really wants to get done,” he said. “I think this is an all-around win.”
By getting young people out of gangs and into jobs, it saves the city money on law enforcement and jails and “adds whole bunches of workers to the tax base and creates a way for people to live a good life,” he said.
Orange said he stumbled into the case one summer day in 2009 when he was volunteering with a local bar group to represent indigent defendants at arraignment. The last person whose name he called was “a little guy in jean shorts and a T-shirt” who should have been in school.
The client was Rodriguez, then 19. When Rodriguez said he’d been arrested with his friend Cazarez for being outside at 11 p.m., “It just immediately leapt out to me that this was wholly unconstitutional,” Orange said. They agreed on the spot to fight the curfew.
Rodriguez died in a car accident in 2014. The special $20,000 award he was to receive as a named plaintiff under the settlement will go to his young daughter’s education. Cazarez is having his $20,000 incentive award set aside for his own daughter’s education, according to Gee’s order.
The settlement also orders the city to pay Orange and co-counsel $5.75 million in fees and costs.