Injunction Junction

Phoenix gang squad is latest to seek civil restrictions, serves injunctions on alleged LCM gang members

Phoenix police officer John Meche stops his cruiser and approaches Eastside Los Cuatro Milpas gang member Noe "Chiquito" Rosales, who is sitting in the bed of a white pickup truck. It is the early evening of Friday, October 8.

"All right, it's time," Meche tells Rosales, an indication the officer is going to arrest Rosales on several outstanding misdemeanor warrants.

"No, man!" Rosales replies. "I'm not going back."

A Phoenix police officer questions a resident during a search for a Los Cuatro Milpas gang member who escaped during an attempted arrest
Paolo Vescia
A Phoenix police officer questions a resident during a search for a Los Cuatro Milpas gang member who escaped during an attempted arrest

Meche grabs Rosales left arm to restrain him as two women emerge from Rosales' home at 1000 East Cocopah Avenue and begin yelling at Meche. Two Hispanic men standing near the truck walk behind Meche as he attempts to place handcuffs on Rosales.

Meche tells the men to move away as Rosales stiffens his arm and attempts to break free. Just then, Rosales' mother, Raquel drives up in a car and pulls into the driveway.

She exits the car and heads toward her son and officer Meche, grabs her son's arm and tries to pull him from Meche's grip. Noe Rosales seizes the opportunity, pulls forward, pivots and throws a right punch to Meche's chest.

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Meche releases his grip for a split second as the much smaller but quicker Noe Rosales pulls away. Meche attempts to lunge forward and grab the 5-foot-6, 168-pound Rosales by the shoulders, but one of the women from the house hits him from behind.

Noe Rosales takes off, running eastbound on Cocopah, darts between some houses and disappears.

Meche sends out a call for assistance, and, within minutes, more than a dozen police cruisers and two helicopters scour the area, looking for Noe Rosales. The search is unsuccessful and is called off about 20 minutes later.

Raquel Rosales, 44, accomplished her goal, freeing her 22-year-old son, at least for a while. For her efforts she was arrested and booked into the Maricopa County jail for resisting arrest.

The attempted arrest of Noe Rosales and ensuing scrap with his mother and others underscores the difficulty police have in patrolling and enforcing laws in the south-central Phoenix neighborhood.

"This neighborhood is a third and fourth generational gang neighborhood," says Sergeant Terry Donagan of the Gang Enforcement Unit. "That's the cycle we need to break."

Donagan says the incident vividly "shows the mentality of the gang and the involvement of the gang within the family unit."

In addition to the misdemeanor warrants, police also intended to serve Noe Rosales with a civil injunction that would prohibit him from associating with other known Eastside LCM gang members in the neighborhood bounded by Seventh and 16th streets and Buckeye Road and Interstate 17.

The injunction -- which will only go into effect if approved by a Maricopa County superior court judge at a hearing scheduled for October 20 -- is part of a three-pronged police strategy to cripple the violent gang and allow residents to reclaim their community.

The first prong was the arrest last March of Eastside LCM leader Felix "Gato" Medina and three of the gang's veteranos.

The second prong is to encourage the remaining hard-core LCM gang members to participate in a city-sponsored series of gang intervention programs.

The final prong is the imposition of the civil injunction, which would make it a misdemeanor for Eastside LCM gang members to congregate in public.

Immediately after the March arrests of the LCM leaders, police and Phoenix community-development officials contacted known gang members and offered them job-training programs, jobs, substance-abuse programs, tattoo-removal services, anger-management seminars, educational and recreational programs and a host of other opportunities designed to help them quit the gang.

So far, Eastside LCM gang members have not seriously pursued the opportunities offered by the city.

"There was no desire," says Phoenix Police Central City Precinct commander Joe Klima.

Police anticipated that there may be resistance to the programs and also started developing plans to impose the civil injunction as another way to forcefully encourage gang members to change.

Police hope the injunction will discourage a second tier of Eastside LCM members from emerging as new leaders.

"You can offer all kinds of programs, but the hammer would be the civil injunctions," Donagan says. "Then we can say we can prevent you from doing these activities and here is something else you can do. Here is a way out."

At least one of the 14 gang members named in the civil injunction was receptive to the order, police say.

"One gang member thanked the officer for delivering the paper [injunction], saying that would give him a way out of the gang," Klima told about a dozen residents of the community at a meeting Monday night.

Other gang members are said to be less than thrilled. The parents of one of the targets of the injunction -- Tomas Anthony Padilla -- are angry over the action and vow to challenge the legality of the injunction.

"I don't think it is fair," says Tomas' father, Manuel Padilla. "They are always harassing him for no reason at all."

Manuel Padilla acknowledges that his son may look like a gangbanger -- the injunction states Tomas has numerous tattoos and owns a Mac-90 assault rifle -- but that doesn't mean he is a gangbanger.

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