Advocates call on city attorney to end civil injunctions against 28 alleged drug dealers

Community advocates in San Francisco are calling on City Attorney Dennis Herrera to dismiss injunctions filed against more than a...

Community advocates in San Francisco are calling on City Attorney Dennis Herrera to dismiss injunctions filed against more than a dozen alleged drug dealers in the city’s Tenderloin neighborhood, barring them from entering the area.

Herrera sued 28 individuals back in September, filing civil injunctions that would prohibit them from entering a 50-square block area, including not just the Tenderloin but parts of the South of Market neighborhood as well. Violators could face a $6,000 fine or be arrested.

According to Herrera, the defendants aren’t neighborhood residents and instead travel from throughout the Bay Area to sell drugs in the Tenderloin.

A coalition of community groups, including the Coalition on Homelessness, called the injunctions unconstitutional and racist on Wednesday, scapegoating black, brown and indigenous individuals, many of whom are immigrants, transitional age youth, and either unhoused or marginally housed. Additionally, the group says the injunctions do little to alleviate overdose deaths, which have risen sharply over recent years.

Six of the 28 defendants are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the law firms Swanson and McNamara and DLA Piper.

“This is an effort to use the law to banish people from our city and that is something the law does not allow,” attorney Ed Swanson said. “Each suit has two claims: one, alleging that our clients are public nuisances under the California Civil Code; the other claiming that our clients violated California’s unfair competition law.”

He added, “This attempt to use public nuisance law and unfair competition law to banish our clients from a large portion of the city based only on a small number of alleged hand-to-hand drug sales is unprecedented and it’s unsupported by the law. As far as we know, no city has ever turned individuals into prohibited people based on their having been charged with low-level drug offenses. No court has ever allowed that.”

According to ACLU attorney Annie Decker, because the injunctions have no end date, they don’t provide any leeway for defendants who need to access the prohibited areas for basic services like food, clothing, social services or even shelter.

“The city says all the defendants live outside the Tenderloin but because so many of them are unhoused or don’t have stable housing, it’s unclear why the city feels so confident in asserting this,” she said. “The city should drop these lawsuits…but if justice, efficiency and compassion for these unhoused people in the middle of the COVID pandemic aren’t good enough reasons, then the federal and state constitution should be.”

In response, Herrera defended the injunctions in a statement.

“The injunctions are crafted to target specific individuals, and will only be issued by a judge, and only after the case is proven in a court of law,” he said. “These defendants do not call the Tenderloin home and they are not seeking health services. All of them have been arrested for dealing drugs at least twice in the Tenderloin in the last year, and many have lengthy arrest histories.”

Herrera said that all the defendants are adults who live in places like Oakland, San Jose, Hayward and Suisun City. Just one of the 28 defendants lives in San Francisco and resides in the Sunset District.

“The drug overdose deaths in the Tenderloin are too much. The children, the seniors, the parents in the neighborhood deserve better. We need to do everything we can to stop this neighborhood from being used as the Bay Area’s open-air drug market,” he said.

Back in 2019, Herrera moved to end similar lawsuits, known as gang injunctions, which were initially filed against alleged gang members between 2007 and 2011 in areas like the Mission, Bayview, Hunters Point, Visitacion Valley and Western Addition. The gang injunctions, which included some 150 defendants at their height, forbade them from engaging in gang-related activity.

Herrera cited a decline in gang activity citywide as the reason for ending the gang injunctions.

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