East Lake Courts gang injunction trial on track for December, attorneys say

East Lake Courts gang injunction trial on track for December, attorneys say

October 17th, 2017 by Zack Peterson in Local Regional News

Executive Assistant District Attorney Lance Pope speaks about charges against Kevin New during New's case Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017, at the Hamilton County Courthouse in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo by Erin O. Smith /Times Free Press.

Attorneys said Monday they're on track for a December trial to determine whether alleged gang members will be permanently banned from associating with each other in East Lake Courts.

Aside from a handful of depositions, prosecutors and defense attorneys are ready for a Dec. 5 trial in Hamilton County Criminal Court that deals with the Grape Street Crips and Gangster Disciples, Executive Assistant District Attorney General Lance Pope said.

Prosecutors targeted 31 alleged members of both street gangs last fall, arguing that law enforcement could curb violent crime in a 2-mile swath of East Lake Courts if they had more legal power to stop routine troublemakers. Defense attorneys countered such a court order would lead to more illegal police searches, minority profiling and violations of the First Amendment right to freedom of association, and they have called for more education and state aid as opposed to prosecution.

The "gang injunction," as it's called in other cities, says each man can be fined $50 and spend up to 30 days in jail for violating a number of listed activities, including owning graffiti equipment, drinking alcohol, possessing guns or drugs, signaling the arrival of police, or hanging out with other men accused of being gang members.

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Though prosecutors secured a temporary version of the order last December, authorites haven't been enforcing it: All 31 men haven't been served with official notice of the "gang injunction," as required before police officers can legally enforce it. What's left is a trial to determine whether both gangs are enough of a public nuisance to merit a permanent version of the order.

To that effect, defense attorneys have been asking prosecutors to show evidence that specific arrests are linked to gang activity.

"[The state] asserts that certain convictions 'can be considered gang offenses according to Tennessee Law,'" defense attorney Zak Newman, who is representing Ronnie Dobbins Jr., one of the accused men, wrote in a motion earlier this month. "Dobbins has requested for [prosecutors] to identify how each of the listed conviction and pending charges are a criminal gang offense."

They've been asking for this information using written questions, known as interrogatories, and through depositions, in which attorneys can question a witness under oath before trial, typically without a judge present.

The defense is scheduled to question Curtis Penney, a Chattanooga detective who specializes in gang intelligence, early next month. Specifically, defense attorneys want to better understand how officers used a points system to validate each man, the majority young and black, as a gang member.

Hand signs, tattoos and self admission each carry different values, and a person only needs 10 points to be validated. Anything less means you're an associate, and defense attorneys say the process is subjective and based on hearsay.

Chattanooga prosecutors have never claimed a permanent order will end gang violence.

"A gang injunction is not seen as a cure-all to end gang violence," Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston wrote in a recent court document. "A gang injunction will assist officers in curbing gang activity before it escalates into criminal activity."

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.

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