Moral Low Ground

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Aaron Harvey, San Diego Man with No Criminal Record, Faces Life in Prison for Facebook Gang Sign Photos

Aaron Harvey tstifies about police harassment in his neighborhood. (Reporting San Diego)

Aaron Harvey tstifies about police harassment in his neighborhood. (Reporting San Diego)

A California man with no criminal record is facing a possible life prison sentence for posting Facebook photos in which he is seen flashing gang signs.

Aaron Harvey, 26, was leaving his apartment in Las Vegas, Nevada last July when he was suddenly beset by aggressive US Marshals.

“Man, Seal Team 6 came out of nowhere, pretty much. Guns drawn, dogs, helicopters,” Harvey recalled in an interview with Voice of San Diego. “They told me that I was wanted for murders in the state of California. I laughed. I started laughing. I told ‘em, ‘You’ve got the wrong guy.’”

But it was no laughing matter. Harvey and 14 other men, including rapper Brandon Duncan, aka Tiny Doo, were later charged under an obscure California law, Penal Code §182.5, a conspiracy statute allowing for the prosecution of gang members if they benefit from crimes committed by other gangsters.

The men were accused of ‘conspiring’ with gang members who shot nine people in 2013 and 2014, even though none of the men have been directly tied to the shootings. But prosecutors allege they enjoyed increased music sales due to the crimes.

“They’re saying I benefited because my stature, my respect, went up,” Harvey told Voice of San Diego. “I didn’t even know I had any stature. I don’t understand how someone can benefit from something they don’t even know exists.”

“If the district attorney wins this case, and I am convicted of crimes I didn’t commit or have any knowledge of, not only will my life change forever, but so may the lives of every young person who had been wrongly documented as a member of a gang,” Harvey added.

The prosecution’s case relies heavily upon social media evidence, including Facebook photos in which Harvey is seen flashing hand signs associated with the Lincoln Park gang, as well as images of him with neighborhood gangsters.

“It’s not a guessing game—they’ve made it as obvious as they possibly could,” San Diego District Attorney Gangs Division Chief Dana Greisen told Voice of San Diego. “The social media stuff is in our face, in their rivals’ faces in no uncertain terms.”

Harvey was registered in California’s CALGANG database during one of the more than 50 times he says he was stopped by police. But Harvey, a trained emergency medical technician who moved to Las Vegas in 2013 and was studying to become a real estate agent, has never been convicted of any crime.

“This is not the American justice system,” Edward Kinsey, Harvey’s attorney, told Voice of San Diego. “We attach personal liability to things. You’re not guilty by mere association or mere membership. It’s just wrong. If they can get away with this, I fear for our future as free citizens.”

Unless the charges against him are dropped, Harvey is set to stand trial beginning April 20. The Grio reports Superior Court Judge David McGill has already dismissed charges against several of the 15 defendants, and both Harvey and Duncan will request similar dismissals at a March 16 hearing.

Watch Aaron Harvey testify about police harassment in his neighborhood:

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