Chronicle reports reduction of defendants in Southlawn Anti Gang Injunction

Half of defendants removed from gang injunction suit

From Houston Chronicle Monday, March 28, 2016 

County officials have cut half of the original 92 defendants from an injunction lawsuit that sought to ban suspected gang members from a 2-mile area of south Houston.

An amended pleading filed late Monday reduced the number of people named in the petition to 46.

The boundary of the proposed "Southlawn Safety Zone" – the county's largest by defendants and geography – originally included 1,326 acres bounded by Interstate 610, Texas 288, Old Spanish Trail and Cullen Blvd., has been decreased to "more closely focus on areas where most of the crimes were committed," a summary of the changes from Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan and Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said.

Now, the zone includes "five schools, two parks, five apartment complexes and numerous businesses."

According to the county memo, defendants were removed because they had no recent gang affiliation, had no criminal activity in the zone for two years, could not be located to be served with the lawsuit, had personal circumstances such as mental health issues or were expected to be incarcerated or parole for a lengthy period.

The civil lawsuit was filed in September on behalf of the state of Texas by the offices of Ryan and Anderson. Unlike previous petitions for gang injunctions, this lawsuit was not shared widely.

Critics have decried the court action as a way to circumvent a community that doesn't support banishment as a solution to the crime problem. They also say the action un-fairly targets young black men and uses weak criteria to label some of the defendants as gang members while keeping them out of the community where they were raised and have relatives, including mothers and children.

County officials contend that the petition combined the state's organized crime and public nuisance laws to request a protective order that would provide relief to a crime-ridden community under siege by gang activity for decades.

Last month, three groups of criminal defense lawyers filed court documents asserting that the proposed injunction is unconstitutional.

The revised petition also provides an exit for those who are enjoined from the area by creating a time frame for banishment, from two to four years, and creating a procedure by which defendants can seek to be removed through a court motion or a county administrative process.

Last November, 55 defendants who had legal representation reached agreed orders to stay out of a smaller Southlawn area along Scott between Yellowstone and Lydia that includes Southlawn Palms and several other apartment complexes.

In February, 14 other men were excluded from the entire zone by "default" because they did not respond to the lawsuit.

A trial on a permanent injunction is scheduled for April 25.

Southlawn would be the third "safety zone" created since 2010 in Harris County. The population of that area is 78 percent black and 20 percent Hispanic. The first injunction zone in northeast Harris County's East Aldine/Haverstock area has a population that is 70 percent black and 25 percent Hispanic, according to calculations based on U.S. Census Bureau figures. The second, in southwest Houston's Brays Oaks commu-nity, is 41 percent black and 40 percent Hispanic.