UPDATE: Judge approves "East Lake Safety Zone" on a temporary ba - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Judge approves "East Lake Safety Zone" on a temporary basis

CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

UPDATE: Some of Chattanooga's most crime-ridden streets are now considered "off limits" to a small group of gang members.

A Hamilton County Judge approved the District Attorney's plan to make it easier for police to arrest gang members in what's now known as the "East Lake Safety Zone"

But some residents in the area wonder if they'll see any change in the community.

A certain group of gang members are no longer allowed to gather around East Lake. The District Attorney's office has been fighting for this "safety zone," and a judge has granted this request, at least on a temporary basis.

For the first time in Chattanooga a gang-free zone has been established. Some people living within the East Lake Safety Zone are skeptical.

"It's supposed to keep it safer, you got to remember, gang members' got family, they got they child out here and they got they baby mama," said Miracle.

Some are wondering if police can really keep some people out, labeled as violent gang members by the District Attorney's Office.

"No, no, I'mma be honest you can't keep them out of here because the police ain't here enough to keep them out," Miracle said.

About 30 known gang members could be fined $50 or spend up to 30 days in jail for things like hanging out with other gang members or having guns. 

The following actions are prohibited in the safety zone:

  • Associating with other gang members
  • Intimidating others
  • Possessing guns or other dangerous weapons
  • Possessing graffiti tools
  • Acting as a lookout
  • Being with anyone who has illegal drugs
  • Being near alcohol
  • Forcibly recruiting
  • Preventing a member from leaving the gang

One attorney, who represents five of the men named in the injunction, said this will not help combat crime.

"This is not the appropriate way to address the violent crime, I understand the district Attorney's position on this, this is a tool that is available for him to use," said attorney,Chrissy Mincy.

The District Attorney's office would not comment further on the new injunction, saying it is still a pending case.
    
Attorney, Chrissy Mincy believes a stronger focus on community inclusion and education would be more effective.

"For example more job programs, more vocational training in schools, really serving this community and allowing them to empower themselves," Mincy said.

That's an idea this East Lake resident agrees with.

"Help them get jobs too, that might be better off, give them something to do where they get money in they pocket," Miracle said, "They might just stop shooting and stuff, they shooting to get money you know what I'm saying."

Chattanooga police say although the injunction has been issued, police are not yet enforcing it, saying they still need to develop policies, procedures and training for this new tool. CPD spokesperson, Elisa Myzal also said "A requirement of the injunction presented by the DA's office is to serve notice to all individuals named in the injunction. That is still a work in progress between CPD, HCSO & the DA's office."
  
According to the District Attorney's office, from 2014 to 2016, crime data shows there have been 177 aggravated assault cases that happened in the area deemed "the East Lake Safety Zone," seven murders, 16 rapes and 188 burglaries. 

The next hearing in court where this will be discussed is scheduled for March 6, 2 p.m.


PREVIOUS STORY: It will take at least another hearing before a judge makes a decision on the Hamilton County District Attorney General's plan for an "East Lake Safety Zone."

A hearing on Monday lasted for five hours as testimony was heard from Chattanooga police along with East Lake neighbors and business owners.

District Attorney General Neal Pinkston was making his case to Judge Barry Steelman about why there should be an East Lake Safety Zone and why two Chattanooga gangs should be declared public nuisances.

Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher was called to the stand to talk about the area.

"That area is known generationally and certainly contemporaneously as one of the busier patrol sectors and patrol zones," Fletcher said.

So far, 17 of the 31 men listed as known gang members in the DA's petition have been served, according to Pinkston.

Some sat in on the court hearing while others were there in custody.

Defense attorneys representing some of the men are not letting the proposed gang injunction go by without a fight.

They questioned how Chattanooga police determine who is a gang member.

"Robbery, aggravated burglary, these are common characteristics of gang criminal activity," Detective Curtis Penney with the Chattanooga Police Department said at the hearing.

"They're also common characteristics of a 17-year-old who went the wrong way," Defense attorney Hank Hill responded.

Judge Steelman decided more time would be needed to consider the proposed gang injunction.

He scheduled another hearing for October 31, at 10 a.m.

If the judge sides with the DA, it would be a permanent injunction. Violating it would be a misdemeanor resulting in 30 days in jail or a maximum fine of $50.

Stay with WRCBtv.com for updates to this story.


PREVIOUS STORY: Some of Chattanooga's most gang-infested streets are in the cross-hairs of the district attorney.

If a judge goes along with the DA's plan, the East Lake area would have its own set of rules that lets police arrest certain people for just showing up. 

"We got too many kids out here that need to grow up in a happy neighborhood, not just always by the gun," Ruthie Wright, a neighbor said.

Wright walks her 18-year-old granddaughter to the school bus stop every morning. She wants the gang problem to stop.

"It's not right that we got to live in fear of shootings, things that's going on that we just want to be in a nice neighborhood where we can enjoy ourselves," Wright said.   

Hamilton County District Attorney General, Neal Pinkston, is asking a judge to use a court order to make it easier for police to make arrests in this area.

If the petition is granted, known gang members of the Gangster Disciples and the Grape Street Crips wouldn't be allowed to do the following within the safety zone: 

  • Associating with other gang members
  • Intimidating others
  • Possessing guns or other dangerous weapons
  • Possessing graffiti tools
  • Acting as a lookout
  • Being with anyone who has illegal drugs
  • Being near alcohol
  • Forcibly recruiting
  • Preventing a member from leaving the gang

Court documents show the neighborhood had 10 murders and 39 others were shot in five years. About half of those were gang-related.

"We don't think it's going to be an end all, be all to the violence. That doesn't exist, but just another tool that they could use to possibly deal with the ongoing violence that we've seen," Neal Pinkston, Hamilton County District Attorney General said.

It would extend from Dodds Avenue to South Hickory Street and East 34th Street to Westside Drive.

"We keep adding tools to our tool belt and we will not relent until gangs are driven from threatening our community," Chief Fred Fletcher of the Chattanooga Police Department said.

Court documents show Nashville and Memphis have created gang-free zones as well. Some say issues have come up.  

"Historically, these type of actions are not as successful from a legal standpoint as they are from a political standpoint," Jerry Summers, a defense attorney said.

As for Wright, she just wants them out of her neighborhood.

"The more they see the police out there, they're going to be like bugs. They're going to go somewhere else," Wright said.

A judge will look at the DA's request next Monday. If approved, it would be a permanent injunction.

Violating the proposed injunction would be a misdemeanor. Those arrested could face 30 days in jail or a maximum fine of $50.

This follows the story below that Channel 3 first reported in July.


PREVIOUS STORY: Chattanooga’s district attorney is involved in a conversation about a possible safety zone in the East Lake community, which would limit where gang members can gather.

According to multiple sources, one consideration for a “Community Safety Zone” would extend from Dodds Avenue to South Hickory Street and East 24th Street to East 34th Street, encompassing all of the East Lake Courts and businesses nearby.

If a judge approves any proposed order, that would make it illegal for certain gang members to gather within the zone.

District Attorney Neal Pinkston has discussed security measures with at least a half a dozen business owners in the zone, but spokeswoman Melydia Clewell says he does not plan to request an order for injunction in Hamilton County General Sessions Court.

“(Pinkston) and the other agencies involved in our multi-agency gang enforcement team are working diligently to determine what our first course of action will be,” said Clewell.

Channel 3 obtained an email Pinkston sent to one of the business owners in the zone saying, "I am working on an injunction to create a neighborhood safety zone for East Lake. With that in mind, I am reaching out to businesses and agencies in the area and trying to determine if they employ security measures to protect their property and employees." The email continues by asking specific security and personnel related questions. 

Business leaders like Cole Webster of The Barn Nursery said the concept could help neighborhood.

"I want to hear a little bit more about the process and how they plan to accomplish that because, you know, it sounds good in theory, but I have to see how that can be accomplished," Webster said.

Others worry the safety zone leads to unconstitutional arrests.

"It's got all kinds of factors to me. It's got political issues. It's got racial issues. It's got financial issues in regards to seizing people's vehicles. It's got evidentiary problems," Jerry Summers, a defense attorney said.

Channel 3 has also obtained and authenticated a flyer (below) being circulated in the East Lake community that lays out the proposal.

Clewell says the DA's Office "did not ask, suggest, recommend, and/or in any way advise or support this or any other flyer." 

If the order is filed and granted, gang members could be arrested for gathering with other gang members in a public place, walking or driving with other gang members or loitering on a parking lot with other gang members in the zone.

It would be up to Chattanooga police officers to perform those arrests. A spokesperson for the department says the concept is still in the exploration phase.

“Regional law enforcement is exploring this possibility along with other tools to fight gang violence, but no petitions have been filed and no orders issued,” said Kyle Miller, spokesperson for the Chattanooga Police Department.

A spokesperson for Mayor Andy Berke's office confirmed they're aware of the conversation.

"The Mayor's Office is aware that CPD and other law enforcement agencies, including the DA's office, have had conversations about this as well as a variety of other tactics to address violence," Lacie Stone, Senior Advisor to Mayor Berke said.

A similar court-ordered safety zone was put into place in Memphis in September 2013, when Shelby County’s District Attorney took similar steps. According to court records, violating the injunction is a misdemeanor and punishable by 30 days in jail or a maximum fine of $50.

"We are aware of what gang injunctions are and are generally aware of how they have been used (in Memphis)", said Clewell.

Defense attorneys have argued the injunction in Shelby County is unfair, unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Earlier this month, Shelby County Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter rejected those arguments, allowing the safety zone injunctions to continue.

The flyer also states, “The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld that gang injunctions are not a violation of a person’s first amendment right to freedom of association.”

But local defense attorneys are concerned about a similar zone being proposed in Chattanooga.

“The problem with these kinds of things, as well-intended as they are, is you can’t police people by status,” said Lee Davis, local defense attorney.

Clewell said the DA would not comment on the constitutionality of a safety zone.

“When we’ve made a decision, we will let you know,” Clewell added.

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