Tiny Doo with family outside the San Diego courthouse / Photo courtesy of Tiny Doo
He’s out of jail, he’s back with his family, and his rap career has gotten a serious publicity boost, but Brandon Duncan, AKA Tiny Doo, AKA the San Diego MC who’s facing criminal charges and possible life in prison for putting out a hio-hop album, isn’t done with his legal troubles just yet.
Duncan, 33, was arrested last year along with fourteen others and charged with participating in a criminal conspiracy linked to a string of shootings allegedly committed by San Diego’s Lincoln Park Bloods gang. Prosecutors have invoked a California gang conspiracy law never used in San Diego courts before, saying that Duncan—who was documented by police as a member of the gang in 1997—assisted and benefited from the crimes by glorifying gang crimes in his 2014 mixtape No Safety.
The case has gotten national attention, but it seemed to start crumbling last week when Superior Court Judge David M. Gill threw out the charges for several of the defendants, saying he thought prosecutors hadn’t shown proof that the defendants had “willfully” benefited from the shootings—as the D.A. had originally charged.
Duncan wasn’t among those who had their charges dropped, but the judge reduced his bail—from $500,00 to $50,000—and this week, the thirty-three-year-old rapper was able to get released after being locked up in a remote county jail for nine months.
“I’ve just been spending time with my family,” Duncan told Noisey in San Diego’s downtown courthouse on Friday. He'd arrived in a black suit jacket and striped tie for a hearing, trailed by some of his kids, his fiancee and other friends and family members, and he clearly looked relieved. “I’m just trying to get my job back. I was working before they came and snatched me out of my home.”
When the case started out late last year, so many people were being charged that the court decided to split the preliminary hearing into two groups. Duncan was in the first group, and he and five others were arraigned in December. The second group had their preliminary hearing last week, and that’s when their conspiracy charges were tossed out—though a few of them still aren’t off the hook, and are still facing other charges related to the shootings.
In the hearing Friday, Duncan and other defendants—among them Aaron Harvey, who’s also been released on bail—were hoping to have their charges tossed, just as the second group’s were. But in a move that puzzled defense attorneys, Judge Gill decided to proceed with the case, saying he didn’t think he had jurisdiction to go back on his original decision from the December hearing.
“It’s a shame,” Brian Watkins, Duncan’s attorney, said after the hearing. “It’s just technical, procedural stuff that’s keeping innocent people behind bars.”
The District Attorney’s office prosecutors, for their part, aren’t ceding ground. On Friday, they filed an updated criminal complaint against the remaining ten defendants. The new document reinstates the original conspiracy charges for those who’d gotten them thrown out last week, and it also changes some wording in what appears to be a move to keep the embattled conspiracy charges in play.
The new document might be particularly disappointing for defendant Darryl Charles, Jr. A founder of the San Diego hip-hop label Black Angels Music Group, he was initially accused alongside other members of the label with boasting about Lincoln Park’s crimes in song. Those charges were dropped last week, as the newspaper U-T San Diego reported. However, Charles is still in the case, charged with helping a co-defendant find a gun, and now the prosecution is trying to bring back the rap music conspiracy charges, too.
In court on Friday, Judge Gill said that in order for defendants to “willfully” benefit from the crimes, they had to have known about the shootings, either before or after they happened, and also have knowledge of the benefits they received. In the new charging document, prosecutors seem to be trying to dodge these requirements, changing the charging language slightly to say the defendants “did benefit” from the gang’s crimes but removing the “willfully” term.
“They’re trying to go around the judge’s ruling and not have to prove that aspect of it,” says Parwana Anwar, Charles’ attorney.
Watkins, Duncan's lawyer, says he plans to file a motion arguing that the judge’s ruling last week is correct and the District Attorney must adhere to it. Ed Kinsey, the lawyer for Aaron Harvey, says he’ll request a dismissal, and if that fails, he’ll file a writ to have the case taken to the appeals court. If that doesn’t work then they’ll go to trial. On Friday, a trial date was set for April 20th.
Right now Duncan seems to be enjoying his newfound freedom. During an interview on CNN this week, he made sure to give a shout out to San Diego hip-hop label Siccness.net, which has posted his albums up for sale. Jack Dee, who works for the label and helped Duncan put out No Safety, says streams have gone up exponentially. It’s too early to gauge whether the media coverage has boosted album sales, but he’s hoping whatever funds they raise will offset Duncan’s legal costs.
“Lawyers aren’t free,” Dee says. “We’re doing everything we can.”
Duncan says he’ll probably put out more music soon. But when it comes to writing new songs, this whole experience definitely gives him pause. “You get kinda nervous,” he says. “Like, ‘Damn, will this happen again? Will they come and get me again?’”
Peter Holslin is on Twitter.