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Still no court decision on the Fruitvale gang injunction

Published February 24, 2011 on Oakland North

After day two of testimony, on Wednesday, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman still had not decided whether to permit the enforcement of an injunction against 40 alleged Norteño gang members in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood. After hearing from just one witness, Judge Freedman extended the hearing to continue next week.

Abel Manzo, 25, one of the alleged gang members named in the injunction, was the only person to testify on Wednesday. His lawyer, Jose Luis Fuentes, used his line of questioning to paint a picture of Manzo as a person who had some minor run-ins with the police but was never involved in gangs. Instead, he said, Manzo is a barber, dad, boyfriend, someone who lost both of his parents at a young age and was raised by his aunt.

An Oakland native, Manzo was arrested in 2004 for possessing and selling marijuana. After serving time, doing community service and getting various jobs, including working for Goodwill, the Port of Oakland and Safeway, Fuentes said that Manzo pulled himself out of trouble and opened his own business—a barbershop.

Yes, Fuentes pointed out, Manzo had violated his parole—but that was for small infractions like changing his address without telling his parole officer or visiting his aunt who lives in the gang territory where Manzo is not allowed to go. And yes, Manzo has tattoos, but rather than gang tattoos they are images of his father’s face and Jesus’ hands, as well as script written across his back that says “Got to give.”

A heavyset young man, wearing diamond earrings, a black button-up with a pink-stripped tie, Manzo turned to the judge and said, “I don’t belong to no gang.”

If imposed, the Fruitvale gang injunction would create a “safety zone” of two square miles, in which alleged gang members, including Manzo, would have to abide by a 10 pm curfew, could not associate with one another or wear clothing with gang colors, including red, green and yellow. The goal of the injunction is to curb crime perpetrated by the Norteño gang that reportedly runs the neighborhood.

This would be Oakland’s second gang injunction—the city approved the first one in North Oakland in June to limit the behavior of alleged members of the North Side Oakland gang. A decision to enforce the North Oakland injunction is set for October, with a decision on the Fruitvale injunction expected in November.

As prosecuting attorney Britt Strottman began questioning Manzo, she painted a different picture of his criminal history. Strottman asked him about a fight he reportedly had with his girlfriend that ended with him hitting his girlfriend’s car. Then Strottman asked him about an incident a couple of years later when he reportedly punched his girlfriend in the face, and another incident years later when he reportedly threatened his girlfriend again. “If the police recorded this, would they be lying?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Manzo answered.

She asked about his various arrests and parole violations, including being arrested for grand theft—spending $3,500 on a company fuel card for his own use—getting a speeding ticket for 135 mph on I-880 and going to a known Norteño gang member’s funeral.

“I didn’t know he was a gang member,” Manzo replied to her last allegation.

Strottman pulled out a photo of Manzo in 2006 wearing a t-shirt that read, “E. 15th Street,” then asked, “Doesn’t this represent loyalty to the Norteños?”

“No,” Manzo said.

Wrapping up her line of questioning, Strottman asked Manzo if it would be a hardship for him to not associate with gang members, throw gang signs, handle weapons or get gang tattoos. No, he said, it wouldn’t be a hardship. She read him a long list of names, presumably of alleged gang members, asking if he knew each one. No, no, no, he answered, to all except one, whom he said was his cousin.

Strottman pulled out a map and showed Manzo that he lived right outside of the proposed “safety zone.” She asked him whether the zone posed a problem for him if he was allowed to drive through the zone to get to his work.

“It would cause a problem because I couldn’t visit my auntie, my family, the people I grew up with,” Manzo said.

During cross-examination, Fuentes asked Manzo why the injunction would be a hardship for him. “I go to work and there’s times I leave the barbershop 11 or 12 at night—it’s how I make my money,” he said. “I like to go out. I’m not a gang member. I don’t gang bang at all.”

After hearing Manzo’s testimony, Judge Freedman made no ruling and said the hearing will continue next week when he’ll hear from additional witnesses.

Once the hearing concluded, Alex Katz, a spokesman for Oakland’s City Attorney John Russo, said, “This is the way we want to do it—have the court review all of the evidence for every individual.” He mentioned that 14 out of the 40 alleged gang members named in this case have been arrested on new charges, including attempted murder, robbery and burglary, since November. “There’s an ongoing continuing threat for residents who live in the neighborhood by this gang,” Katz said.

The continuation of this preliminary Fruitvale injunction hearing will resume on Wednesday, March 2 at 9:30 am at the Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland.

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