Charlotte-Mecklenburg police are asking for an injunction to place restrictions on suspected members of the Hidden Valley Kings – a new tactic for battling one of the city’s oldest gangs. It’s the first time a North Carolina law enforcement agency has taken civil action against a gang, police said Tuesday.
Other cities have used injunctions for decades because it gives police more leeway to limit gangs and approach their members. But civil libertarians say the tactic can amount to racial profiling and ends up targeting people who aren’t gang members.
CMPD will ask a judge to approve an injunction next Thursday. If enacted, it would prevent members of the Kings from associating with other members in public or being near someone who is carrying drugs or guns, according to police.
The injunction is against the gang as a whole and three members. It lists 20 other members, including one who is dead. If successful, the Hidden Valley model could change the way police try to break up street gangs in Charlotte.
“I think it’s a smarter way,” said CMPD Chief Rodney Monroe. “…This community has struggled for a number of years, trying to keep the peace. When we started this, it was directed at not allowing the resurgence of the Hidden Valley Kings.”
In announcing the initiative, Monroe said his department helped write state legislation passed last year that allows for injunctions against gangs, with help from members of the Los Angeles Police Department, which has had a similar ordinance since the 1980s.
‘The jury’s out’
In the past, authorities have successfully built sweeping federal cases against leaders of the Kings that sent gang members to prison for decades.
People found in violation of the proposed injunction would face only misdemeanor charges, Monroe said.
But the injunction is aimed at disrupting the gang, particularly by making it harder for older, more-seasoned members to influence the teens who commit the bulk of the criminal activity because they’re less likely to receive lengthy jail time.
At a meeting with community members Tuesday, Monroe tried to get the neighborhood’s support for the injunction tactic. He encouraged residents to come to the injunction hearing.
Monroe also told community members that police had arrested seven alleged gang members Tuesday and were looking for nine more.
Police made several large drug buys and recovered several thousand grams of marijuana, $50,000 in cash, and several guns.
Al Simpson, who’s lived in Hidden Valley for more than 30 years and attended the meeting, has seen the Kings’ effect on his neighborhood. In the past few years, he says, police have beat back crime, only to see it increase in recent months.
“Two weeks ago, I was in my yard, and I heard boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom,” he said. “I’m not somebody who’s easily intimidated, but it’s wrong when you can’t live in your own house without worrying about catching a stray bullet.”
Simpson said he was happy to see police go after the Kings. Still, when asked whether he thought the new tactic would be successful, he replied: “The jury’s out.”
Success out West
Police say it’s an approach that’s worked elsewhere. Los Angeles pioneered the use of injunctions against gangs in the 1980s. On Tuesday, LAPD had approximately 50 active injunctions against gangs.
Those targeted included international gangs like MS-13 and also neighborhood gangs like the Grape Street Crips, which are confined to a handful of streets north of Compton.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California criticized gang injunctions, saying they give too much discretion to police to label someone a gang member.
“Police are left to rely on things like what someone looks like, where they live, and who they know,” the organization says. “As a result, there is a great potential for racial profiling, with a particular impact on young people of color.”
The Hidden Valley Kings rose to prominence in the mid-1980s. They were a homegrown gang – the sons of working-class people who moved to the north Charlotte enclave. But the neighborhood was battered by a crack-cocaine epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s, and the Kings capitalized on the decay.
Police say they cornered the market on drug-dealing in that part of town. They established lookouts at the community’s main entrance to watch for approaching police. And they kept out competitors with intimidation and violence.
At their height, they didn’t even sell drugs on some blocks. They charged a tax to other drug dealers who wanted to peddle.
The last six years
In 2007, authorities arrested a sizable chunk of the Hidden Valley Kings’ leadership, dealing a serious blow to the gang. Since then, the community has rebounded. But junior members – some of whom were in middle school during the big bust – got older. Police say a splinter group called the North Side Valley Kings became the gang’s new leaders.
They changed strategies, Monroe said. Their drug of choice became marijuana, which carries a lighter sentence than other drugs. And senior gang leaders used mostly juveniles to do the drug dealing.
Police say the Kings were responsible for a series of shootings in north Charlotte late last year. “We started to see the same names pop up,” Monroe said.
There were other signs. Police say a video surfaced on YouTube in January showing young men brandishing guns and large amounts of money.
In the video, several men rap about “trapping,” or setting up on a street corner to sell drugs. One makes allusions to keeping things going until someone gets out of jail. Another man calls himself “A Mecklenburg General.”
Many can be seen holding up gang signs for the Hidden Valley Kings.
Police began their investigation about eight months ago, Monroe said.
As part of the operation, police say they bought drugs from mostly junior gang members.
Police faced criticism during one buy in June that went down in the parking lot of Hidden Valley Elementary while parents were registering children for summer classes inside.
Police said the suspects tried to turn the deal into a robbery, exchanging gunfire with police and shooting a confidential informant. One of the suspects was shot in the head by police and killed.
The other was arrested a few days later and charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. Both were 17.
Staff researcher Maria David contributed.
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