Some trees in Paragon Mills Park bear signs of the Kurdish Pride gang — black spray-painted letters “K P” are on a couple, one is branded with the word “Killa.”
Twenty feet away sits a well-kept, but empty, playground set that is the centerpiece of the park where gang members meet daily to discuss criminal activity, according to Sgt. Gary Kemper of the Metro Nashville Police Department Gang Unit.
Tuesday morning Metro officials announced they had just filed a civil lawsuit in Davidson County Criminal Court that they see as one of the “tools in the toolbox” to combat gang activity, in this case in the heart of South Nashville and the KPG’s turf.
The suit — set to go before Judge Steve Dozier for a June 29 hearing — declares that the KPG and specifically 24 of its most active members are public nuisances to the city and should be legally prevented from associating with one another within a 1.43-square-mile “safety zone.” In addition, KPG gangsters would be forbidden from being in either Paragon Mills Park or nearby Providence Park at all.
The safety zone is roughly bordered by Interstate 24 to the east, Harding Place to the south, Nolensville Pike to the west and the railroad tracks near Nashville Zoo to the north.
Such a lawsuit is believed to be the first of its kind in Tennessee. It became possible in 2009, when, at the urging of Metro officials, the state legislature added certain gang activity to the state’s definition of a public nuisance.
That June, the state attorney general’s office warned that to bring gang members within the legal definition of a public nuisance police and prosecutors would have to sufficiently prove that not only are they gang members but also that the gang has engaged in a pattern of criminal activity.
In California, where Los Angeles and San Jose have used such suits, the American Civil Liberties Union has spoken out against their use, raising concerns they could lead to police profiling and violations of due process against those enjoined by a suit. But Metro attorneys and police believe they’ve done enough homework to enforce such an injunction without trampling on rights and opening up holes in the suit.
Addressing the drawn out process, current Chief Steve Anderson said, “We’re proceeding very cautiously. This is a new area for us, [and] we want to make sure that we do this in a manner that will stand the test in court. And then obviously we wanted to document all of the things that made us eligible to seek this injunction.”
Metro attorneys and police have been building a case against those named in the suit that Metro legal director Saul Solomon believes will stand up in court.
The suit, Solomon said, is “narrowly tailor[ed]” around a specific area where much of the criminal activity occurs. “It’s a balancing act between what we think the community needs and what the rights of the individuals are.”
Without the injunction, police are limited at preventing gang members from meeting in parks and other areas.
“It’s not against the law to have a gang meeting,” Kemper said. “Now with this injunction, we [could] keep them out of this park so people will feel safe to be in here.”
Even if the suit is successful and gang members are prohibited from being in the parks and associating with each other in public places, they would not be prevented from gathering in the context of school and religious events or with family members.
Could it just lead to the gangsters moving their activity to new meeting places? Yes, according to Kemper. “They’re going to [move], we know that,” he said. “The whole idea is to keep the pressure on them.”
To do so, the perimeters of the “safety zone” may be adjusted in the future and, though this particular suit is the first of such for Metro, Anderson left the door open to seek similar legal leverage against other areas or gangs in the city.
Two of those listed in the lawsuit — Ako and Aso Nejad — were sentenced in 2008 on conspiracy to commit murder charges.