Mecklenburg County is the first in North Carolina to invoke a new law that allows police departments to prevent gang members from associating with each other in public or being near someone who is carrying drugs or guns.
A judge Thursday morning granted CMPD's request for a civil injunction against a north Charlotte gang called the Hidden Valley Kings.
This civil injunction means police can now arrest any of the nearly two dozen adults and teenagers who police have identified as gang members.
So if they're seen spending time with each other in public – unless it's in a setting like a school or office or church -- or if they're suspected of associating with anyone in possession of drugs or firearms, they can be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for violating the injunction.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is allowed to do this under a law passed last year that declared street gangs as a public nuisance. It was modeled after a similar law in California.
The Hidden Valley Kings have been around since the late 1980s. Two gang members from Chicago are credited with starting the gang according to police. They became notorious for selling drugs and drive-by shootings. In 2007, the FBI arrested leaders of the Hidden Valley Kings, and crime went down. The Hidden Valley neighborhood rebounded. But the police say that younger members are now replacing those leaders and are responsible for a number of drive-by shootings in the area.
CMPD attorney Mark Newbold represented the city at the hearing.
"Older members of the gang are selling or distributing marijuana to the younger members and through the interviews with some of the younger members of the gang, it's quite clear that several of them have pooled that money together to purchase fire-arms," Newbold says.
He says the injunction is necessary to maintain the peace in the Hidden Valley neighborhood.
"We all know that maybe the minor sale of marijuana isn't the worst thing in the world," Newbold says. "But if this is used to facilitate criminal activity and gang activity, that is what I believe the statute allows us to pull that in."
But alleged members of the Hidden Valley Kings say they're not members. In fact, they say the gang doesn't even exist anymore, since the FBI arrested several leaders six years ago.
"Yes, I started ICEE Money that's what I'm the leader of -- a record label," Wendell McCain says. "But Hidden Valley Kings, never been a part of Hidden Valley Kings."
McCain says he admitted to being the leader of ICEE Money ("I see money") – which is a record label for rap music. Police says he's the leader of the Hidden Valley Kings and uses the two names interchangeably. They say it's just a front for the gang. McCain's criminal record includes marijuana convictions in 2009 and 2012.
Raul Pinto is a staff attorney at ACLU for North Carolina.
"Very often, the recognition of gang membership is dependent on appearance and signs and whatnot and obviously this could lead to racial and other over-broad application of this type of injunction," Pinto says.
This injunction lasts one year. The city will have to go before a judge again to continue the injunction.