Sept. 25 (UPI) -- San Francisco is suing 28 alleged drug dealers to block them from trafficking narcotics in the city's Tenderloin neighborhood.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced the civil lawsuits Thursday during a press conference, stating litigation was pursued as a creative solution to the growing problem of drug dealing in the downtown area, which is home to the largest concentration of children in the city.
"These drug dealers do not live in the Tenderloin, but instead travel from around the Bay Area to sell deadly drugs there -- the drugs that are fueling the addiction and overdose crisis that we are seeing on our streets," he said. "These lawsuits are designed to stop the brazen open-air drug dealing that has plagued this historic neighborhood at the center of the city's opioid crisis."
The lawsuits seeking civil injunctions were announced as the area combats a growing drug crisis. According to a statement released by Herrera's office, San Francisco saw 441 people die from overdoses in 2019, a 70% increase from the year prior, with the Tenderloin having the highest mortality rate of any San Francisco neighborhood.
So far this year, 81 people have died in the Tenderloin from overdoses, his office said, adding that between June 1, 2019, and June 19, 2020, more than 580 arrests for the sale of drugs or possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking were made in this area, most of which involved either fentanyl, heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine.
"Enough is enough," Herrera told reporters during the brief press conference, stating the measures will make "the Tenderloin a protected zone."
Herrera explained that each of the 28 lawsuits is tailored to the specific defendant, and if granted would prohibit them from entering a 50-block area of the Tenderloin as well as part of the neighboring South of Market neighborhood.
Violations of the order carry civil penalties of fines up to $6,000 per transgression and criminal consequences including possible arrest, which would lead to a search and the confiscation of any illegal drugs or other contraband in their possession. Herrera's office said that of the 28 people sued Thursday, none live in the Tenderloin with only one of them being a resident of San Francisco.
Herrera said that they are targeting the "predatory, repeated dealers who are selling the most drugs" who fall under specific criteria.
Those named in the lawsuits have at least two arrests on their record in connection to the selling of fentanyl, heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine in the Tenderloin in the past year and a half with at least one of those arrests occurring in the last nine months. Both arrests must also have led to criminal charges laid by the district attorney or a motion to revoke probation.
"We need to do everything we can to stop this neighborhood from being used as the Bay Area's open-air drug market," he said. "It's time for a new approach. Our goal here is to keep these dealers and the drugs they carry out of the Tenderloin. The kids, the parents, the seniors, the workers, the business owners of this neighborhood have suffered too much at the hands of these dealers."
San Francisco Mayor London Breed voiced support for the plan during the press conference, stating that the open-air drug dealing in broad daylight has to stop.
"While we absolutely need to continue to invest in treatment and push for innovative public health solutions like safe injection sites to help those struggling with addiction, we also need to stop the rampant drug dealing that Tenderloin residents see outside their windows every single day," she said. "This neighborhood deserves better, and our city needs to do better."