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Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston
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A judge on Monday set a trial date in the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office's case against 31 men accused of bringing violent gang activity to East Lake Courts.

Come Dec. 5, defense attorneys will argue about whether a permanent version of Neal Pinkston's "gang injunction" should be in place.

An injunction is a court order and, in this case, Pinkston wants to give police officers more legal power to stop 31 men who allegedly belong to two street gangs: the Grape Street Crips and the Gangster Disciples. Because these men routinely bring crime to a nearly two-mile stretch of East Lake Courts, he said, Pinkston wants the gangs declared a public nuisance.

Pinkston secured a temporary version of this order in December, which 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 and drugs, signaling the arrival of police, or hanging out with other men accused of being gang members.

Defense attorneys say a permanent version would lead to more illegal police searches, profiling, and violations of the First Amendment right to freedom of association in minority neighborhoods. But Chattanooga police, who are not enforcing it yet, issued a department-wide policy late last month to prevent those things from happening, a spokeswoman said Monday.

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To prevent unlawful stops, an officer must confirm a person's identity via a database of photographs and then ensure they're still named on the injunction, Chattanooga police Chief Fred Fletcher wrote May 26. A person can be removed from the injunction if they renounce their gang, remove their tattoos, and don't have any fresh arrests in a two-year window. Some attorneys have said that's not as simple as it sounds.

A first offense should result in a ticket; the second, an arrest, according to the police policy. Either way, an officer has the discretion to decide what's appropriate, based on the "totality of the circumstances."

"The officer can arrest the person without a warrant if the public offense was committed or a breach of the peace was threatened in the officer's presence," Fletcher's policy reads.

In January, police spokeswoman Elisa Myzal said the department wanted to be sure all 31 men were served with notice to appear in court before enforcing anything.

As of Monday, "I believe 22 of the 31 men" were served," Pinkston's spokeswoman, Melydia Clewell, wrote in an email.

Police have a few procedural roadblocks to clear before any enforcement begins, Myzal said.

"The people on the list need to be notified by [the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office] through a directive from the DA's office," she said, "and signs must be placed in and around the Safety Zone before any enforcement action is taken."

Attorneys next return to court Oct. 16 for a pretrial checkup at 1:30 p.m.

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

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