OAKLAND -- Since the city attorney proposed a Fruitvale gang injunction in October, several defendants have been joined by scores of protesters in demonstrations against police abuse, and 13 have been arrested for new crimes -- but none testified in his own defense until Wednesday.
Javier Quintero, 27, is one of 40 adults accused by City Attorney John Russo of being active in the Nortenos street gang, which police say is behind half the violent crime in the troubled neighborhood. If the lawsuit is successful, Quintero and others will be forbidden to gather with one another or members of any other gang. They'll be disallowed to wear certain colors and forced to obey a 10 p.m. curfew.
Acknowledging he has a criminal past, Quintero testified Wednesday at the injunction's first evidentiary hearing that Russo has it wrong, that he's never been in a gang and has committed to a clean life as a construction painter.
"I started off as a prep and worked my way up," Quintero said.
He's been on parole for a drug conviction since 2008, and in July, three months before Russo publicly announced the injunction suit, he went from minimum-security standing to "super-max," forcing him to wear a GPS locator on his left leg and quadruple his check-ins with his parole officer.
Under cross-examination, Quintero admitted multiple arrests and convictions for drug offenses, including one in which police connected him to a shed, nine doors from his Fruitvale home, in which police found a small arsenal and large amounts of marijuana.
Quintero said he did not know about the weapons there and had visited the shed before to visit friends, watch TV and hang out.
"This (injunction) is supposed to be for the 40 most violent people, but I don't have any violent record. I think there are other people who really need it," he said, prompting a flurry of questions from the plaintiff's attorneys about who he had in mind -- though he said he wasn't thinking of anybody specific.
"The GPS will already tell you where I'm going," he said. "You don't need any more than that. This is a waste of time."
Thirty of the 40 defendants are being represented by a handful of volunteer lawyers led in court by veteran civil rights attorney Dennis Cunningham.
His second witness was Barry Krisberg, a gang injunctions expert and lecturer at UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law, who testified that gang injunctions generally do more harm than good to communities and that defining "gang members" is troubling because of the term's ambiguity. Judge Robert Freedman struck his testimony from the record, however, after Krisberg revealed he had no knowledge that was specific to the Oakland injunction, local gang activity or the defendants.
Though Krisberg is clearly knowledgeable about injunctions on a policy level, Freedman said, the court hearing was not facing any policy issues; those will have to be decided by other branches of local government.
The dismissal was a blow to the defense, as Freedman has allowed them just five witnesses to testify before he decides whether to issue a preliminary injunction.
They will face a similar problem when the case returns to court Feb 23, as Freedman expressed concern that another of the defense witnesses appears unrelated to the facts of the case. However, that witness does gang outreach in the Fruitvale neighborhood, and will likely be able to demonstrate a more direct connection to the case.
Also expected to testify next week is Abel Manzo, another defendant, who stormed out of the courtroom Wednesday when the attorneys and judge discussed what defense attorneys said was a news report in which defendants' mug shot photos had supposedly been published.
"I'm a barber, and now I have to deal with my clients thinking I'm a Norteno because they saw me on TV," Manzo said angrily after the hearing. "I cut Surenos' hair. I cut Border Brothers' hair. Now they might have problems with me because they think I'm in some rival gang."
Russo spokesman Alex Katz flatly denied that anyone behind the injunction has released the photos, and the Tribune could not confirm that the rumored report actually exists.
Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.