SAN DIEGO (CN) — One of the first legal challenges to a California gang database maintained by law enforcement was heard in San Diego Superior Court Thursday in a case that could set precedent for how a new law is interpreted across the state.
“To some extent we are trailblazers here,” Superior Court Judge Laura Parsky said before hearing arguments on a petition to remove San Diegan Tyrone Simmons from the CalGang database.
Simmons’ case — believed to be the second such petition in the state — springs from a 2017 law by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, that requires police to notify people they include on the gang database. The law allows people on the list to challenge their designation.
After police declined to remove Simmons’ name from the database at his request last year, he petitioned the court to review and reverse the finding by the San Diego Police Department.
The methodology for listing people as gang members on the database came under fire in 2016 after a state audit revealed that the database — with the names of 150,000 suspected gang members — included glaring errors such as the names of more than 40 infants. Hundreds more people were on the list though their names should have been purged because they had not been updated in five years, according to the audit.
Simmons says he has not been affiliated with a gang since his daughter was born a decade ago.
Law enforcement is required to remove names from the list if there is no evidence someone has been involved with a gang for five years.
“He did his time. He got out. He graduated college. He works full time. And now he’s here to take back his definition and to explain who he is. We don’t think he’s someone who belongs on that list,” Danielle Iredale, Simmons’ attorney, said in an interview after the hearing.
Schoolchildren and neighbors in black T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “Schools not Prisons” packed the courtroom Thursday to support Simmons.
Attorneys sparred over whether alleged police contacts could be considered evidence to support maintaining Simmons’ name on the database.
“This is a perfect example of why our law excludes hearsay evidence,” Iredale said of the “bullet point list” that San Diego police provided of alleged contacts with Simmons.
She said the vague list did not include any officers’ names or other details that could be confirmed, and should be excluded out as evidence.
But Deputy City Attorney Michelle Garland said the law does not require police to provide specific details on officer contacts. Law enforcement officials are required only to inform someone that he or she is on the gang database — not details of why, Garland said.
Judge Parsky rejected Simmons’ hearsay objection. She also found the court could consider privileged evidence, not subject to disclosure to Simmons or his attorney, that the police department claims it considered in including Simmons on the database.
Parsky said that while the statute does not require law enforcement to disclose the privileged information used to include someone on the database, it does not preclude law enforcement from relying on that information.
Parksy cleared the courtroom for more than 30 minutes to review the privileged information with Garland in what she called an “independent, third-party review.”
When the courtroom was reopened, Parsky indicated she would ask the City Attorney’s Office to “sanitize” the privileged information so it could be shared with Simmons and Iredale.
The hearing was continued until March 23.