SF City Attorney seeks to bar alleged drug dealers from Tenderloin

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced civil injunctions against 28 individuals allegedly involved with drug dealing in the Tenderloin District on Thursday, prohibiting them from entering a roughly 50 square-block area of the neighborhood and adjacent neighborhoods.

“Enough is enough. These injunctions are carefully crafted to simultaneously safeguard a defendant’s due process rights while targeting with precision the problem of drug dealers coming from outside the area to prey on Tenderloin residents, both housed and unhoused,” Herrera said.

Herrera aimed the injunctions at people with repeat offenses, namely those who do not live in the Tenderloin and have been arrested at least twice for drug sales or possession of drugs with intent to sell during the past year and a half. The drugs involved must be fentanyl, heroin, cocaine or methamphetamines.

Defendants will be notified of the injunctions and given the chance to present their defense in court at a hearing, according to Herrera.

Violations could incur a civil penalty of up to $6,000 and “can also be pursued as misdemeanor crimes, subject to the subject’s immediate arrest along with immediate confiscation of illegal drugs or contraband in possession.”

Drug use and overdose are prevalent concerns for the city. Last year, 441 San Francisco residents died from a drug overdose, and Herrera said the Tenderloin “had the highest mortality rate [from overdose] of any neighborhood.”

Police Chief Bill Scott supported Herrera’s approach, calling it “an innovative strategy that really gives us a much better opportunity to turn the corner on drug dealing.”

In a recent 3-month long operation focused on narcotics dealers, the San Francisco Police Department Narcotics Detail and Tenderloin Station Street Crimes Unit made 267 arrests for drug sales.

“Our officers seized over $144,000 in U.S. currency and a combination of over 7,000 grams of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroine, fentanyl and other drugs. 210 of those arrests had prior arrests in San Francisco and 55 of the 267 arrests were in violation of court-issued stay away orders,” Scott said.

However, Public Defender Manohar Raju called the move “another chapter in the war on drugs.”

He noted that when he and his predecessors have defended people accused of intent to sell drugs in the past, as with these 28 defendants, jurors would often return verdicts of possession without intent to sell.

“More enforcement of low-level, subsistence street level sellers is not the solution to this ongoing public health crisis,” Raju said. “Rather, we should use our resources to provide meaningful alternatives to street level dealers — including housing, job training, and employment — and also focus on getting at the source of the drug trade, which will continue to produce drugs so long as the demand exists.”

Raju noted that many street sellers use the very drugs they offer and can be readily replaced; while their arrests make the existing market “more volatile,” they do not result in actual change. He argued that immigrants involved in drug sales are often victims themselves.

“Recent immigrant sellers are often victims of human trafficking, tricked and forced into the drug trade after escaping oppressive and violent regimes and non-existent opportunity. Like drivers or warehouse employees for billion-dollar corporations, they are subsistence workers, many of which lack choices,” Raju said.

Herrera did not consult with Raju before announcing the injunctions.

“As we saw in the past with misguided gang injunctions, one-sided fact gathering leads to injustice, further traumatization of those who are human trafficking victims, further litigation and wasted resources,” Raju said.

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