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Gang injunctions decrease violence in Wichita Falls

Wichita County Courthouse.....Judge Brotherton signs gang injunction at courthouse.
Wichita County Courthouse.....Judge Brotherton signs gang injunction at courthouse.
Wichita County

The gang injunction signed by Judge Bob Brotherton this week is the most recent in a series of gang injunctions obtained in Wichita Falls, Texas which have reduced the number of bullets being fired in the streets of this city hugged by the Red River, according to the Wichita Falls Police Department press release today, Saturday, July 19. Street gang violence reportedly originated in Los Angeles with turf wars between warring gangs and eventually spread eastward across the map of America to include Wichita Falls.

Wichita Falls prosecutors, police officers and sheriff's deputies were faced with an onslaught of drive-by shootings which resulted in serious injuries and deaths of rival gang members. Not only were rival gang members the victims of such violence, but also innocent bystanders were sometimes struck by stray bullets.

The injunction signed by Judge Brotherton Thursday was the most recent in a series of innovative legal tools used by law enforcement in this North Texas city of 105,000 to stem the bloody tide of violence which has rolled across the continent from Southern California. While this most recent injunction is aimed at reducing activity by the Varrio Carnales gang, previous injunctions have been successful in slowing the flow of blood caused by other gangs roaming the streets of Wichita Falls including the Hoova Crips, PLM and North Side Crips.

The most recent injunction was crafted by Wichita Falls City Attorneys James McKechnie and Kinley Hegglund working with Assistant District Attorney Meredith Kennedy. The signing of the order by Judge Brotherton was the culmination of two years of litigation against 28 VC gang defendants, according to WFPD.

When the first wave of street gang violence engulfed Wichita Falls in the early 1990s the Wichita Falls Police Department, Wichita County Sheriff's Office and Wichita County District Attorney's office were flooded with cases involving shootings by gang members from one car to another and sometimes even into houses. Innocent bystanders were sometimes struck by stray messengers of death.

The gang violence which originated in LA was depicted in a movie Colors which was a box office hit in the late 1980s. The movie's name was based on the fact one of the groups wore bandanas and other items which were blue in color. The rival gang wore only red. A person wearing the wrong color could be slain for nothing more than wearing the wrong color in the wrong part of town.

Released in 1988, the film Colors starred Sean Penn as a young police officer and Robert Duvall as his experienced partner. Together they tried to stop gang violence between the Bloods, the Crips and Hispanic street gangs. The plot of the movie occurs in South Cenral, North West and East Los Angeles. The tension increases as a hit is put out on Don Cheadle who portrays a gang member who is co-operating with police officers. The movie ignited a nationwide discussion of the gang problem.

Barry Macha was the district attorney in Wichita Falls at the time gang violence first hit the city. Macha worked with several chiefs of the Wichita Falls Police Department including Ken Coughlin, Dennis Bachmann and Manuel Borrego in creating a gang task force. Macha also appointed two prosecutors in his office to specialize in gang cases. They co-ordinated efforts with members of the Wichita Falls Police Department Gang Task Force to deal with the rise in gang violence.

The use of injunctions emerged as an innovative and effective way of limiting gang violence over the years. There were questions as to whether gang injunctions were constitutional until Macha, Chief Appellant Attorney John Brasher and Assistant District Attorney James Suter traveled to Austin to argue in front of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Members of the Wichita County Public Defender's Office argued the injunctions were unconstitutional.

Chief Justice Sharon Keller and her colleagues ruled the injunctions as drafted by the City Attorney's Office (Kinley Hegglund) and the District Attorney's Office were consitutional. That ruling paved the way for the use of injunctions in the future.

Today's press release by the WFPD said, "This injunction is intended to reduce Varrio Carnales gang activity in the same manner as the previously issued Hoova Crips, PLM and North Side Crips injunctions."

The police department further stated, "By joining forces and working together, the City of Wichita Falls, Wichita Falls Police Department, Wichita County Criminal District Attorney's Office and the Wichita County Sheriff's Office are sending a strong message to the community that they are drvoted to combating the City's Criminal Street Gangs. Each agency has done its part to fight the war on crime and gangs in Wichita Falls."

A previous statement issued by the City of Wichita Falls said, "An injunction is a 'writ granted by a court of equity whereby one is required to do or to refrain from doing a specified act."'

The first gang injunction was against 21 members of the most active members of the VC street gang on Aug. 31, 2006, according to the City.

The City issued a memo which stated, "The injunction came as a response to a dramatic spike in gang-related crimes including over 58 shootings during the summer of 2005. An analysis of this escalation of gang violence indicated a low-level turf war between the Varrio Carnales (VC) and the Puro Lil Mafia (PLM)."

Hegglund said, "Reacting to the gang problem was no longer enough. On behalf of local law enforcement, we decided to take a proactive stance to better protect the citizens of Wichita Falls."

Since the initial injunction in 2006, the City Attorney's Office and Wichita County District Attorney's Office have filed four additional gang injunctions against the Puro Lil Mafia, North Side Crips, Hoova Crip Gang, and a second Varrio Carnales injunction. A total of 81 gang members have been named in the injunctions.

The official Wichita Falls website for Gang Injunctions stated," With the help of the Wichita Falls Gang Task Force, gang activity and crime have been on the decline. The City of Wichita Falls recently announced the latest report on crime and gang activity revealed a 40% decline in gang-related incidents in gang safety zones since the city and county began the gang injunction project in 2006."

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