Two men jailed under controversial gang law will get $1.5-million payout from San Diego

Brandon Duncan and Aaron Harvey
Brandon Duncan and Aaron Harvey at a 2015 news conference after murder charges were dismissed against them.
(Misael Virgen / San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego officials have agreed to a nearly $1.5-million payout for two men who spent several months in jail six years ago under a controversial gang conspiracy law.

The settlement, scheduled for City Council approval Tuesday, would compensate Rapper Brandon “Tiny Doo” Duncan and Aaron Harvey for emotional damages they allegedly suffered spending about seven months each in jail.

The two men filed a civil-rights lawsuit in federal court three years ago claiming that they were wrongfully incarcerated under the gang law and that San Diego police violated their 1st Amendment free-speech rights.


The $1.475-million settlement, which the council approved Dec. 10 in a session closed to the public, would be split evenly between the two men — $737,500 each.

The crux of their case is a state law, Penal Code 182.5, which local authorities used in 2014 to send dozens of alleged San Diego gang members to jail.

Approved in 2000 but rarely used, the law says gang members with general knowledge of a gang’s criminal activities can be prosecuted for crimes others commit as long as they willfully benefited from, furthered, promoted or assisted in some way.

Supporters have called the law a powerful tool to take down gangs as an organization. Critics say the law amounts to “guilt by association” and unfairly targets young minority men.

Duncan, now 38, and Harvey, now 31, were among 15 alleged gang members arrested in connection with nine shootings in 2013 and 2014.

There was no evidence either man actually committed the shootings. Prosecutors relied instead on rap lyrics and social media postings that allegedly promoted gang violence and created a sense of fear in the community.


Duncan and Harvey, who grew up in southeastern San Diego’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, have repeatedly disputed that they are gang members, contending they were punished for associating with those who are.

Their attorney, Marc Zebrowski, praised the city Wednesday for agreeing to participate in a federal mediation program that helped produce the settlement.

Zebrowksi declined further discussion of the case until the council gives final approval to the settlement.

“We hope we can all move on,” said Zebrowski, who took the case pro bono.

Both men were arrested in summer 2014. Harvey’s initial bond was set at $1.1 million, while Duncan’s was set at $500,000.Both stayed in jail until a judge lowered those amounts seven months later.

In March 2015, a San Diego County Superior Court judge disagreed with the use of the law against both men and dismissed the cases against each of them.

The judge ruled that for someone to be charged with PC 182.5 the person must have specific knowledge of the crime and have carried out a specific act that furthered or assisted in the crime, or must have specifically benefited from the crime.


Duncan and Harvey filed their lawsuit against the city in 2017. The county district attorney wasn’t named as a plaintiff because prosecutors and judges are immune from civil suits.

Duncan, an aspiring rapper who earned a living laying tile, was arrested in June 2014 as he prepared to go to work. Officers then searched his home without his consent or a warrant, according to the civil-rights lawsuit.

Harvey, who had moved to Las Vegas, was arrested by U.S. marshals in July 2014 as he left his apartment. He spent about three weeks in a Las Vegas jail beforedetectives came for him and drove him to San Diego, the lawsuit says.