Sweeping Southlawn gang injunction suit dismissed

By Mike Glen, Houston Chronicle

A civil lawsuit that initially would have permanently banned 92 accused gang members from a court-ordered "safety zone" in southeast Houston was dismissed Monday by the Harris County Attorney and District Attorney's Office.

The dismissal came after settlement negotiations that resulted in proposals for programs to help gang members who wanted to "become law abiding citizens."

"The lawsuit is being dismissed to allow time to develop and implement programs that create job-training and educational opportunities," Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan and District Attorney Devon Anderson said in a joint statement.

In September 2015, officials began a legal process in civil court to bar 92 people accused of being associated with the Bloods, Crips and other street gangs from a 2-square-mile section of the Southlawn neighborhood located near the University of Houston and Texas Southern University. The number of named individuals was later dropped to 46.

Lawyers for some of the people on the list complained that the effort was discriminatory and was done without the knowledge and input from the community itself. Critics also complained the action unfairly targeted black men.

Houston attorneys Gemayel Haynes and Monique Sparks represented several of those on the banned list.

"I'm glad they decided to take a different approach to solving some of the issues in the community instead of going forward with the gang injunction," Haynes said after learning of the dismissal.

Sparks said lawyers and community leaders met with city and county officials on a regular basis in the weeks leading up to Monday's dismissal.

"It shows what can happen when we work together. They realized there's so much more that we can do outside this gang injunction," Sparks said.

The problem, Sparks said, was that the officials immediately opted for the civil lawsuit rather than searching for a measure to address the underlying symptoms that can result in problems such as criminal activity in a neighborhood.