OAKLAND -- A 25-year-old barber named in the city's Fruitvale gang injunction lawsuit on Wednesday took the stand for the first time testifying that he's committed no violent crimes and that he knows of no Nortenos gang at all.
Abel Manzo is one of 40 adults accused by City Attorney John Russo in October of being among the most dangerous members of the street gang police say is behind half the severe violent crime problem in the district.
Wednesday's hearing was the second day of Judge Robert Freedman hearing evidence, which could conclude next week with Freedman deciding whether to issue a preliminary injunction before a full trial. The injunction would forbid the defendants to wear gang colors, associate with any gang members or be in public after 10 p.m.
Manzo said he's in "the best relationship ever" with his fiancee, raising a baby girl about to turn 1 year old, and running a business. He said he learned how to cut hair while in Santa Rita Jail, after one of several probation violations in which he was caught selling marijuana in 2004. He said he now makes his living peacefully barbering for children, neighbors and others.
He denied multiple arrests and police stops that officers say happened after Manzo's fiancee reported being beaten and threatened during fights with him. He also denied several instances in which police reported he was found in the company of known gang members.
Manzo's attorneys accused Russo's office last week of releasing his mug shot and several other defendants' photos to a TV news station. Though that report has yet to be confirmed and the station denies airing any gang story that day, the accusation prompted Manzo to storm from the courtroom, explaining to Bay Area News Group, "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."
Asked by plaintiff's attorneys Wednesday if he would agree there is a gang called Nortenos, Manzo said simply, "No."
Manzo said he doesn't personally know any of the other defendants, except one who is his cousin.
He said the injunction's 10 p.m. curfew would both be a problem for him, as he has family living in the proposed safety zone, plays night games in local baseball leagues and must often drive to and from his work at odd hours when clients call him for late-night hair cuts. The hearing is expected to continue Wednesday. Freedman may then make a decision whether to issue a preliminary injunction, which would likely lead to a full trial in November.
In the meantime, some City Council members began weighing in on the issue for the first time at Tuesday night's public safety committee meeting, which was attended by more than 200 residents arguing both sides: that the injunctions are an important tool in fighting a totally unacceptable crime problem, and that they are a dangerous overstep granting even more power to police officers who already frighten many minority residents.
Ignacio De La Fuente (Fruitvale), has supported the injunction since it was proposed, but committee chair Pat Kernighan (Chinatown-Lake Merritt) gave the idea some tentative support, arguing, "You need to offer jobs, offer opportunity, but most people won't leave a gang without pressure from law enforcement as well."
The committee didn't make any significant policy decisions Tuesday night but is expected to keep a close eye on the issue as it moves through the courts.
Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.