Defense says injunction limits constitutional rights
WILMINGTON – A Wilmington judge last week sentenced a suspected gang member to one month in prison for violating an injunction against two dozen Port City street gang members.
Alfonso McClendon, 24, was arrested in December and charged with violating the injunction. His 30-day sentence will run concurrently with a three-month sentence McClendon is currently serving for violating his post-release supervision.
McClendon is the second gang member to be found in contempt of the civil injunction, filed Nov. 6 on behalf of New Hanover County Attorney Ben David, Wilmington Police Department, County Sheriff’s Office New Hanover and the Wilmington City Attorney’s Office. The injunction alleges that 24 members of Folk Nation 720 Gangster Disciples are terrorizing the neighborhoods of Creekwood, Long Leaf Park, Market North Apartments, Greentree Apartments and an area near Princess Place Drive.
McClendon was a passenger in a car driven by Qwanelle Ruffin. The couple were arrested on Market Street on Dec. 8 on expired tags, said Daniel Thurston, the Wilmington civil attorney who has been appointed special assistant prosecutor in the case. Police found heroin, marijuana, Xanax and $ 600 in the car.
Ruffin, 25, was arrested on various drug-related charges. McClendon was charged with a misdemeanor and was reportedly released from prison, but was charged with breaching his watch after his release. He had already posted bail when he was sentenced to three months. Because he could not recover the $ 250 he paid on bail, Superior Court judge Imelda Pate did not impose a fine on him for violating the injunction.
Ruffin was fined $ 500 and three months in jail in January for violating the injunction.
David said unlike Ruffin, McClendon was only the passenger and cooperated after his arrest. Prior to his arrest, McClendon was scheduled to start at TRU Colors, a start-up brewery offering jobs to gang members. McClendon was to be part of the second wave of gang members hired by the company.
“I want him to be successful,” said David. “If he wants to team up with his other gang members at (TRU Colors) and sell beer, I’ll buy the first beer.” If he wants to team up with his gang members and sell heroin, I’ll put him in jail.
Limit constitutional rights?
At the start of the hearing, Brendan O’Donnell, McClendon’s appointed attorney from the Public Defender’s office, withdrew his motions challenging the legality of the injunction and asking for a new judge because the injunction was put in place. through a “manipulated process”.
Pate granted the injunction in November, ordering the 720 named gang defendants to refrain from associating with their co-defendants or any known gang members except in certain situations, such as work and family events. No expiry date has been set on the injunction. She told the defendants in November that to be removed from the injunction, they would have to go to court. Gang members found in violation of the order could be sentenced to up to six months in jail and up to $ 1,000 in fines.
O’Donnell argued that the injunction is unconstitutional. As it was written, he argued, there was no way for McClendon and his fellow gang members to challenge the injunction, as meeting with a lawyer or even talking about a legal strategy would be a violation of the injunction.
O’Donnell also argued in a separate motion, District Attorney Ben David used his power to hold a special session to hear the injunction. He wrote that the unnecessary creation of the special session “creates the appearance of impropriety.”
David called O’Donnell’s motions “ridiculous” after Friday’s hearing. He said in an effort to be fair, he made sure every gang member was personally served and went to court to make sure a judge outside the area heard the injunction.
After the conviction, O’Donnell used the hearing to ask the judge to stay the injunction so that suspected gang members could seek legal help to challenge it.
“These conditions prevent them from defending themselves,” O’Donnell said. “They choose between risking prison or uniting to fight the injunction.”
Thurston said the injunction was in place not as a punishment for gang members, but to keep the community safe.
Pate did not respond to O’Donnell’s request, saying questions about the legality of the injunction were not before her at the hearing.
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