Judge rejects challenge to LA graffiti crew injunction

Graffiti marks the concrete walls of the Los Angeles river near downtown L.A.
Graffiti marks the concrete walls of the Los Angeles river near downtown L.A.
Lord Jim/ Flickr CC

A judge has dealt a blow to a notorious group of Los Angeles graffiti artists, rejecting their challenge to the city's request for a permanent injunction to restrict their activities, the office of City Attorney Carmen Trutanich announced Friday.

Trutanich asked for the injunction against the MTA, or Metro Transit Assassins, in June 2010 to block its 10 members from associating with each other or possessing graffiti tools or weapons. It would also impose a mandatory curfew on each member of the crew.

The MTA is best known for a quarter-mile-long stretch of graffiti along the concrete wall of the L.A. River near downtown.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Deirdre Hall issued her ruling Tuesday, rejecting defense arguments that the city had not stated proper grounds for the injunction.

Hill rejected the defendants' arguments that their graffiti was artwork and therefore protected speech under the First Amendment.

She also said the city had sufficiently proven that MTA had engaged in unlawful business practices under state law -- that the members used illegal graffiti to increase the value of their commercial products such as artwork in galleries and logos on hip hop clothing.

"The judge's ruling means our case is going forward, that we're right and this legal theory is a valid one,'' said Deputy City Attorney Jim McDougal with the Safe Neighborhoods and Gang Division. "And hopefully it has an affect on the million middle school kids with markers who are looking up to these taggers."

The civil suit filed against the MTA asks the court for $1.25 million in fines and $3.7 million for damages for 500 graffiti incidents documented by the city.

The city has said its case rests on expert declarations from law enforcement officers and the statements of 52 witnesses, plus 101 photographs depicting graffiti vandalism to freeway soundwalls, billboards, bridges, buses, trains, cars, trucks, homes, commercial buildings and the concrete river wall.

The suit is modeled after civil gang injunctions but would cover the entire state instead of just local areas.

The court must still decide whether to grant the city an injunction. The city's next court appearance is scheduled for June 28.