Wednesday, December 05, 2007

City aims to curb drugs, save park: Sacramento Bee

Court orders will bar alleged dealers, users from Oak Park spot.

By Christina Jewett -

Last Updated 12:42 am PST Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Story appeared in MAIN NEWS section, Page A1
Oak Park artist Patti "Patris" Miller, left, supports the injunction, hoping it will clean up James McClatchy Park and encourage people to join her in jogging around "a beautiful place." Randy Pench /
The Sacramento City Attorney's Office and police are poised to serve 24 court orders barring alleged drug dealers and users from returning to Oak Park's largest park, based on police reports that many of them sold rock cocaine and heroin from park benches and bathrooms.
The orders will go into effect as soon as the city attorney and police can notify the 24 people that they no longer may enter the park as a result of an injunction signed last week by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Loren E. McMaster.
The effort to attract families to 15-acre James McClatchy Park at Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street marks the city's most ambitious use yet of an injunction or civil lawsuit to exclude people from entering a certain area.

It's an endeavor that some residents hail as a new beginning for a park in one of Sacramento's most crime-plagued neighborhoods, and that others criticize as an insufficient response to homelessness and drug addiction.

Across the Sacramento River, West Sacramento officials have been grappling for two years to secure an injunction that would prohibit public gatherings in the Bryte and Broderick neighborhoods, where police also complain of drug-dealing and gang activity. That injunction, which would impose a curfew on about 400 people, has been forcefully opposed by some residents as overly broad.
In both cities, proponents say such injunctions are necessary after years of failed efforts to take back the streets from criminals.
Sacramento Police Sgt. Susan Feenstra, who oversees the "problem-oriented policing" officers who laid the groundwork for the McClatchy Park lawsuit, said residents and officers have worked for years to make the park a welcoming place.
They staged concerts, filling the elm-shaded park with music. They persuaded SMUD to provide better lighting on the winding pathways. Officers arrested the same people repeatedly.
Still, Feenstra said, coaches and parents complained that syringes were scattered in the grass and that children witnessed people smoking crack.

"I'd love for the residents and business people in Oak Park to feel like they can go to McClatchy Park at any time and not feel like their safety is threatened," Feenstra said. "We have beautiful parks in the city – McClatchy is like a gem that's undiscovered."
The green and manicured park has a pool, basketball courts, a baseball diamond, playground and tennis courts.
It is in the midst of Oak Park, a neighborhood of shade trees and vintage cottages, where professionals work with police to displace prostitution, crack sales and absentee slumlords.
Before seeking the order, police completed undercover purchases of "the white," street slang for rock cocaine, and "the black," slang for tar heroin, from 24 people, court records show. Six more were arrested on charges of drug or paraphernalia possession.
The City Attorney's Office sought the order against 30 people plus 100 "Does" – unknown drug dealers and users.
McMaster granted the order against the 24 people who had been served with notice of the legal proceedings and did not allow police to enforce it against unknown people.
City Councilwoman Lauren Hammond, who represents the area, said she hopes the injunction sends a strong message that no drug dealing will be tolerated in the park.
"Then people can enjoy the park again," she said.
Officers noted in court filings that residents had called police to McClatchy Park and the surrounding block 1,440 times from May 2004 to May 2007 for reports of public drunkenness, littering and prostitution. The court file includes arrest reports for the people they sought to exclude from the park.
Marcell Toliver, 36, one of the people named in the injunction, said during an interview in the park Tuesday morning that the order is unfair.
Toliver was arrested in February on suspicion of selling cocaine to an undercover officer, court papers say. He pleaded no contest.
The tall, lanky man said the order puts him in double jeopardy, making him pay twice for one crime: once with jail time and a second time by being excluded from the park.
"I'm homeless, I live in the park," Toliver said. "They're trying to say we're a nuisance and we're not."
Toliver said drugs and homelessness are far larger problems than any individual. He said he should not be penalized for social ills.
"I need a job," Toliver said. "If someone wants to give me a job, tell them to come down here."
Beth Kivel is one of eight Oak Park residents who submitted a declaration in support of the injunction. She echoes Toliver, though, noting that homelessness and drug abuse demand community attention.
"It's really not getting at the heart of the issue," she said.
Sacramento Supervising Deputy City Attorney Gustavo Martinez said the injunction is the largest the city has undertaken.
Those who violate terms of the injunction – by entering the park or engaging in other offenses like littering or fighting in public – may be charged with violating a court order, a misdemeanor.
Martinez said no one spoke against the injunction during the Nov. 26 hearing. Unlike the gang injunction in West Sacramento – which covers three miles – he said this injunction was so limited the city did not publicize it.
"This lawsuit is against each individual defendant," Martinez said.
Alan Schlosser, managing attorney for the Northern California office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said his office is fighting aspects of the broader and larger West Sacramento injunction.
He had not heard about the Sacramento order, but said he is generally concerned that civil injunctions eliminate needy targets' opportunity to be represented by an attorney – a guarantee in a criminal case.
Meanwhile, residents are making a list of uses they will have for the park when the nuisance activity is gone. There might be a farmers market, more festivals or expanded sports leagues, said Oak Park resident Tom Sumpter, who signed a declaration in support of the injunction.
Another injunction supporter, Oak Park artist Patti "Patris" Miller, looked through the park's elms, palms and evergreens Tuesday morning, hopeful that others will join her routine jogging around the park.
"It's just a beautiful place," she said.

About the writer:

  • Call The Bee's Christina Jewett, (916) 321-1201.
Oak Park artist Patti "Patris" Miller, left, supports the injunction, hoping it will clean up James McClatchy Park and encourage people to join her in jogging around "a beautiful place." Randy Pench /
Marcell Toliver, one of the 24 people who were named in the injunction, called it unfair. "They're trying to say we're a nuisance and we're not," he said. Randy Pench /
Come Together and Create!
Peter S. Lopez ~aka:Peta
Sacramento, California, Aztlan

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