Law enforcement officials on Thursday questioned the release of two alleged gang members who say they were looking for work when they were arrested for violating a controversial court order against them.
James Powell and Ellis McGhee were arrested Tuesday for associating with each other in the so-called safety zone where a civil injunction won by the City Attorney’s Office in November remains in place against the infamous Oakdale Mob. They were there to get work with a contractor who is renovating nearby housing projects, they said.
The injunction, which some have opposed on the grounds that it violates First Amendment rights to speech and assembly, makes it a misdemeanor for named members of the Oakdale Mob to take part in certain activities, including associating with one another, in a four-block safety zone around the 1100 block of Oakdale Avenue. It makes exceptions for subjects who are working, looking for work or going to school or church.
On Tuesday, Powell and McGhee, who are named in the injunction, attended a rally in the 1100 block of Oakdale, in which local residents protested a public housing construction site demanding jobs, police reported.
The contractor at the site began taking names of applicants, who were then told to stay around, said Joanne Abernathy, Powell’s aunt. When Powell and McGhee were arrested, “They were waiting for their name to come up. Their names were the first two names on the list,” Abernathy said.
Police said they watched Powell and McGhee sign up for the jobs, then leave the demonstration and have a 15-minute conversation. That’s when they were arrested. Abernathy said their names were called for work moments later.
On Thursday, Judge Loretta Giorgi released Powell — a father who works part time at a local roofing company — on his own recognizance because he was trying to gain employment.
District Attorney Kamala Harris said the decision “concerns” her.
“These people have been designated as being the focus of the gang injunction because they’ve been identified as individuals who’ve engaged in behavior dangerous to the community,” she said.
Powell’s mother, Theresa Abernathy, said Powell has been working and caring for his daughter after defeating an attempted murder charge last year.
In addition to the misdemeanor charge of violating the court order, Powell faces a charge of possessing narcotics for sale. McGhee faces a misdemeanor charge for violating the court order, as well as a charge of violating his felony probation from a prior narcotics charge.
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