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Controversial Gang Injunction Overturned by Utah Supreme Court

Denis Jr. Tangney(OGDEN, Utah) -- Members of an Odgen street gang will be allowed to freely gather in public once more, after the Utah Supreme Court overturned a controversial injunction that had barred them from hanging out together.

More than 300 members of the Trece gang had been prohibited from associating with each other within an area of Ogden designated as the "Safety Zone" for more than three years.

The state's high court voided the injunction on Friday, ruling that leaders or the "managing or general agent" of the gang were not properly served, and determined that "The district court therefore lacked jurisdiction to enter the injunction."

"Nobody and their dog could have argued that they didn't know the gang was being sued," Weber County Deputy Attorney Branden Miles told ABC affiliate KTVX-TV in Salt Lake City. "But the legal requirements for suing someone requires us to provide a certain kind of notice."

"We do not view this decision as a set back as to the merits of the injunction, but rather the direction from the courts as to how to serve a criminal gang," Ogden Police said in a statement.

The Trece gang, also known as Centro City Locos, is the city's largest gang and has been operating for more than 30 years.

Weber County labeled the gang a "public nuisance" and moved to file the injunction against it in August 2010. The 331-page document contained more than 100 pages of photographs of gang symbols, tattoos, graffiti, clothing and hand signs, and accused the gang of criminal acts ranging from graffiti to selling drugs and murder.

At that time, the county argued that it was "difficult if not impossible to give the gang 'notice' ... and serve [it] under traditional methods," as authorities had trouble pinning down the gang's "known management structure, officers, directors."

The district court then granted the county a written order authorizing service by publication, and notices were posted shortly afterward in the Ogden Standard Examiner and on www.utahlegals.com.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah appealed the order after it became permanent in 2012, arguing the service of the injunction was "fundamentally flawed."

"We are thrilled that the court vacated this misguided, overbroad, and constitutionally suspect law enforcement tactic," David Reymann, a cooperating attorney with the ACLU, said in a news release. "The constitution demands that parties whose rights will be affected must be given a meaningful day in court, and that simply did not happen in this case."

Within the "safety zone," a 25-square-mile area encompassing most of the city of Ogden, gang members were banned from "[d]riving, standing, sitting, walking, gathering, or appearing together" in public view.

The injunction further prohibited members from "[c]onfronting, intimidating, annoying, harassing, threatening, challenging, provoking, [or] assaulting any person" who might have witnessed or been the victim of the gang's activities.

It also imposed a curfew between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. except when members were traveling to and from "work, from any non-gang related entertainment event, school activities, and religious services."

Authorities said they had seen a sharp decline in crime following the implementation of the injunction, which if violated, was punishable by up to six month in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

"Case loads on average going from 16 per month on something like graffiti down to four. So we can show a 75 percent drop in criminal street gang activity," said Miles, who told KTVX-TV the ruling would not deter them from going after the gang again.

"We got the conditions of the court, we've got the additional evidence that they would like to see on the record that will allow us to pursue them. We are prepared to do that."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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