Occidental Alum Anh Truong ’95 was awarded the Anti-Defamation League’s Sherwood Prize in downtown Los Angeles March 14. Truong, the deputy city attorney of Los Angeles, received the award for his work in the prosecution of The Peckerwoods, a white supremacist gang located in the San Fernando Valley. The Sherwood prize is awarded by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to law enforcement personnel who go the extra mile in the effort to combat hate in Southern California. Truong credited his time at Occidental and his experience as a Vietnamese immigrant as instrumental in his work as a prosecutor in the safe neighborhoods and gangs division of the city attorney’s office.
The Peckerwoods are a white supremacist gang known for trafficking illegal drugs and stolen weapons out of homes garnished with Swastikas and other hate symbols in the San Fernando Valley.
Truong stood out for his unconventional approach in the take-down of the Peckerwoods.
“This year’s honorees have made creative and effective contributions to the fight against hate,” Amanda Susskind, director of ADL’s Pacific Southwest Region, said.
Truong was the assistant supervisor for the citywide nuisance abatement program when the Peckerwoods came on the radar of LA law enforcement. The goal of that division is not to put people in prison, but rather to simply keep neighborhoods safe. When the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) handed the investigation over to Truong’s office, they simply filed cases against the gang.
“I was pretty much helping to draft the complaint and kind of reviewing evidence, and trying to figure out what’s the best way to deal with this situation,” Truong said.
Truong and his team were able to file an injunction against the gang in late 2016. An injunction is civil as opposed to criminal, that seeks a court order that declares the gang’s public presence a nuisance to the community — and thus can regulate their activity.
Initially, Truong and his team received some backlash for their work in the takedown of the gang, specifically related to their method of using an injunction to prosecute the gang, a legal method that the ACLU has in the past claimed as unconstitutional for violating due process rights. But the legal nuances of going after a gang in a civil suit made Truong and the nuisance abatement team’s approach seem more sensible.
“There were a couple articles later that seemed to be able to understand and say maybe, it makes sense because the Peckerwoods are not taking over blocks and blocks and blocks; they are straight up thugs, but at that one location,” Truong said.
Much of his success as a city attorney can be attributed to his Occidental education, which gave Truong the confidence to pursue a path that led him into the business of taking down crimes and promoting justice through the courts. While studying as a Coro Fellow post graduation, he felt something was missing from his vast repertoire of community planning and engagement knowledge — a legal understanding.
“[My lack of legal knowledge] always bothered me,” Truong said. “I’m pretty smart, I got through Oxy, I got through Peter Dreier’s classes, but yet there was something I didn’t fully understand about the legal decisions.”
Although Truong’s resume currently includes a Coro Fellowship, a position as a partner in LA law firm Alschuler Grossman & Pines and his current position as deputy attorney of LA, he initially arrived on Occidental’s campus with little idea of what he wanted to do.
“I think my first couple years were more about figuring out what I didn’t want to do,” Truong said.
After a few bumpy science classes, Truong found his niche through coursework in the Urban and Environmental Policy (UEP) department, taught by Professor Peter Dreier.
“I felt like it wasn’t until I got to Peter Dreier … I started to discover what I truly wanted to do and how to hone my skills,” Truong said. “In our class of seven or eight people, Peter was just ripping things apart and it was just … let’s get to the heart of it. That experience actually energized me. [I thought], ‘What am I made of?’”
A little over 20 years after Truong’s graduation, Dreier has similar feelings about his former advisee and student.
“People like Anh make me proud to be a college professor,” Dreier said. “10, 20, 30 years after you teach somebody, you see how they blossomed, you see how they grow, sometimes they get their names in the newspaper, usually they don’t … [Truong] should make Oxy proud.”
Prior to his time at Occidental, Truong learned the importance of advocating for people from all walks of life from his experiences as a Vietnamese immigrant. In his speech, covered by the Los Angeles Times, he explained his story fleeing Vietnam on just a small boat with his family 39 years ago.
“I just felt like it was timely to say, look, we’re supposed to be the law enforcement community,” Truong said. “We’re the protectors … we are not in the business of picking and choosing; we don’t pick one nationality over another. We’re not picking immigrants over residents.”
Truong translates his values of advocating for and protecting all individuals into his legal approach as a prosecutor.
“If you have a crime, and you have a victim, and it’s a neighborhood, I’m going to file, Truong said. “I don’t care who’s on the other side, so I thought that it was timely at those awards that, in my experience as an immigrant, I know what it’s like to be vulnerable, but now I’m on the other side… we don’t pick and choose, we have to protect everyone.”