St. Paul police sue to keep gangs away from Rondo Daysby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — St. Paul city officials have filed lawsuits against two street gangs in an attempt to prevent violence at the upcoming Rondo Days festival.
Earlier this year, a judge granted the city a similar injunction which involved members of a different gang during the Cinco de Mayo celebration.
The lawsuits target nine known members of the East Side Boys and the Selby Siders. The gang members could still attend Rondo Days, but they would not be able to wear gang colors, flash gang signs or be disruptive. If they violate the terms of the 21-hour injunction, they could be arrested.
St. Paul city attorney John Choi says the two gangs have a history of violence. "The police have reason to believe this could spill over into the Rondo Days event," said Choi. "So we are taking every precaution, and being very proactive in trying to minimize the possibility of any type of criminal gang activity and violence."
The city asked for and received a similar injunction against members of the Sureno 13 gang during the Cinco de Mayo festival in early May. Choi says the gang members named in that injunction didn't show up to the festival.
Tina McNamara, the commander of the city's gang and gun unit, says known gang members did attend Cinco de Mayo. But they appeared to be aware of the restrictions imposed by the injunction.
St. Paul officers didn't see anybody flashing gang signs or displaying other outward signs of gang membership.
"We definitely noticed that the style of dress, the clothing had changed -- from the jerseys to a lot of plaid shirts, which we weren't used to seeing," said McNamara.
The Rondo Days Festival and Parade, scheduled for July 18, celebrates the Rondo neighborhood, a historically black section of St. Paul. The event draws tens of thousands of African-Americans to the area each year.
McNamara says the Selby Siders and the East Side Boys are the city's two most prominent African-American gangs, and she says they have a history of crime in the neighborhood where Rondo Days is held.
"We have drugs, so we have narcotics trafficking," she said. "Homicides, shootings, assaults, criminal damage to property with the graffiti."
McNamara says there are about 180 active members of the Selby Siders. The East Side Boys have about 100 members. The city's lawsuit names the most active gang members, meaning those who've committed the most crimes.
States like California and Texas have been using similar injunctions for years. In 2007 the Minnesota Legislature passed a law allowing cities like St. Paul to use civil statutes, instead of criminal ones, to restrict the activities of gang members.
That troubles civil libertarians like Chuck Samuelson of the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"The standard of proof in civil law, which are typically lawsuits about money, is much lower than the standard of proof in criminal law," he said.
Samuelson says for a person to be found guilty of a civil offense, such as violating a court-ordered injunction, there only needs to be a preponderance of evidence. And that's an easier standard for law enforcement to achieve.
Samuelson says when a suspected gang member is arrested, they may not be able to get legal help.
"Because it's not a criminal law, these gang members, alleged gang members -- who are poor people -- are not entitled to representation by the government, a legal aid lawyer, because it's a civil matter," he said.
Samuelson says the ACLU will not challenge St. Paul's latest attempt to get a gang injunction. But he says his organization will likely oppose future attempts.
St. Paul city officials say they'd like to see similar restrictions used at sporting events and other large gatherings.
A judge will hear the city's arguments in a few weeks, just a few days before the Rondo Days festival is scheduled to begin.