By Marty Graham
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A San Diego judge has dismissed gang conspiracy charges against a rapper whose music prosecutors said encouraged gun violence against rival gangs, in a ruling his lawyer characterized as a victory for free speech.
Rapper Brandon Duncan, who uses the stage name Tiny Doo, was one of seven people charged last June in a 16-count indictment that centered on nine shootings that took place in 2013 and 2014 involving the so-called Lincoln Park gang.
Duncan was charged with nine counts of conspiracy to participate in a criminal street gang by prosecutors who said his music and social media presence encouraged the violence, although he was not accused of taking part in the shootings.
On Monday afternoon, San Diego Superior Court Judge Louis Hanoian threw out charges against Duncan and co-defendant Aaron Harvey, ruling there was no evidence that the two defendants had participated in the crimes or benefited from them.
Hanoian also expressed concern that the actual shooter or shooters had not been identified or charged.
“This is a First Amendment victory,” said Brian Watkins, who represents Duncan. “Brandon had no knowledge of and no part in the shootings but he was charged as though he did because he is in gangster rap. It’s entertainment, not crime.”
The case has drawn local and national attention, with hundreds of people participating in local rallies against what critics have said was overly broad use of conspiracy charges against members of minority communities.
The San Diego District Attorney’s office said on Tuesday in a statement it was reviewing the judge’s decision and considering whether or not to appeal.
"It's unfortunate that in spite of the evidence transparently available in the court record and court's rulings that clearly establish active gang membership during the time of the shootings, the media and community has allowed itself to be manipulated by individuals who are misrepresenting their true level of gang involvement," the statement said.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)