Skip to main content

San Diego Case Will Be Second In State Challenging Gang Database

People linger in front of the San Diego Central Courthouse, Feb. 14, 2018.

Photo by Claire Trageser

Above: People linger in front of the San Diego Central Courthouse, Feb. 14, 2018.

There is a database in California called CalGang which keeps track of gang members, and until recently, anyone could be in it without knowing.

But a state law that went into effect last year says going forward, police cannot put you in the database without telling you. The law, which was written by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, also allows people already listed to challenge their designations as gang members.

RELATED: San Diego Nonprofit Prepares To Fight For People Listed In Gang Database

Now, a San Diego judge will determine whether a local man should be taken out of the gang database. It is the second case in California challenging CalGang.

The civil case is brought by Tyrone Simmons, a resident of Southeast San Diego, against the San Diego Police Department.

Local attorney Danielle Iredale is working pro bono on the case and said that her client ended his involvement in gangs after the birth of his daughter 10 years ago.

The law says that if five years pass without any evidence someone is affiliated with a gang, that person should be removed from the database. So Iredale asked for the list of contacts the San Diego Police Department alleges Simmons had with gangs.

The list includes a total of six incidents in 2007 and 2008, including two where Simmons was arrested for possession of a gun. Then in 2014, he was stopped by police while leaving a party at Emerald Hills Park in San Diego. Police say the party was a gang celebration; Iredale says it was an Easter picnic.

Photo credit: Tyrone Simmons

Tyrone Simmons appears with his daughter in this undated photograph.

Iredale argues in court documents that because there were no gang contacts between 2008 and 2013, Simmons should have been removed from the database.

"It's about self-definition," she said. "To Tyrone, it's important that he gets to define himself and that who he is is not defined by the state and police."

Simmons said it frustrated him to be defined by things he had done more than 10 years earlier with no recognition of the work he has done to change. He owns his own business, has joint custody of his daughter, and runs a motorcycle club that has an annual back to school drive for kids in Southeast San Diego.

"I want to understand why stuff like that isn't highlighted," he said. "I went to prison but then worked to change myself for the better. I'm an example of what they want, but they're still trying to hold that old stuff over my head to hold me back. Do you want us to stay in this system, or do want us to do what I did and get out and try to help other people?"

"I'm trying to make a change, but regardless of what you do good or bad, it's always going to be bad for you," he added.

The San Diego City Attorney's Office, which will be arguing against Iredale, did not respond to a request for comment.

Iredale said because the law is so new, she hopes Simmons's case will set a precedent for other arguments against CalGang to follow.

"Now the system is set up and people can follow this roadmap that we've created, and people bring cases on their own behalf as well," she said.

The first hearing in the case will be in early March.

There is a database in California called CalGang which keeps track of gang members, and until recently, anyone could be in it without knowing.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.