Rapper Meek Mill heads to court in suit against city, cops
PHILLY RAPPER Meek Mill's civil lawsuit against the city, a cop and a former cop will be heard by a federal jury next week in a case that mixes celebrity, alleged bad-cop behavior and the possible smell of pot.
Mill, 26, of North Philly, is slated to testify. His high-profile lead attorney, Dennis Cogan, is expected to show that one defendant, fired police Officer Andre Boyer, had numerous civilian complaints against him.
In addition to Boyer, the city and police Officer Alvin Outlaw are defendants in the case.
Jury selection begins Monday, and opening statements will likely take place Tuesday.
In court filings, Mill's lawyers and the city's Law Department portray different scenarios.
The January 2013 lawsuit filed by Mill, whose real name is Robert Williams, stems from a car stop about 7:30 p.m. Oct. 31, 2012. The rapper was driving his black Range Rover on Girard Avenue near 11th Street in North Philadelphia when Boyer, Outlaw and police Officer Michael Vargas pulled him over.
Mill was on his way to the airport to catch a 9:45 p.m. chartered jet from Philly to Atlanta, where he was scheduled to attend a release party that night for his debut album, "Dreams & Nightmares."
With him in his SUV were a senior vice president of Warner Bros. Records, an off-duty Fort Lauderdale narcotics officer and a friend.
"During the stop, the officers claimed that they smelled marijuana," said a pretrial memorandum filed earlier this month by Mill's attorneys, Cogan and Anthony Petrone.
The "officers arrested everyone in the Range Rover, and transported them to the 22nd Police District [at 17th Street and Montgomery Avenue, in North Philly] in handcuffs where they were placed in jail cells pending the application and execution of the search warrant for the Range Rover," the memorandum says.
While Mill was handcuffed at the 22nd District, Officer James Craig "secretly took a cellphone picture" of him and sent it to friends, the filing says.
And according to an amended complaint filed by Mill's lawyers in February, Officer Victoria Ayres sent a message via the social-media site Instagram "mocking plaintiff and saying, 'Talk about dreams and nightmares, Meek is sitting in cuffs courtesy of the 22nd District! I'm rollin! Maybe he'll sign our copies.' "
Mill and his companions were released from the district about 4:30 a.m. Nov. 1, about nine hours after the car stop. They were not charged with any crimes.
Boyer, Outlaw, Vargas, Craig and Ayres were named as defendants in the amended complaint. But Mill has since dropped Vargas, Craig and Ayres from the suit.
Mill's attorneys say in the pretrial memorandum that the "search of the Range Rover yielded nothing." No pot. No drugs.
They contend the officers lied about smelling pot to justify a search of the SUV.
They also contend that cops violated Mill's civil rights by conducting an illegal stop of his vehicle - one done without cause or justification - and suggest he was detained because of racial profiling. They also contend he was falsely imprisoned by being unjustly locked in a jail cell for hours.
The city's Law Department, which is representing the defendants, contends that the cops pulled Mill over because his Range Rover had heavily tinted dark windows, a violation of a Pennsylvania motor-vehicle code.
A Police Department investigation report on the incident said Outlaw and Boyer got out of the patrol vehicle and went to the SUV's passenger side. There, "Outlaw could detect the strong odor of raw marijuana emanating from the interior of the vehicle," the report said.
Boyer then went to the driver's side of the SUV and also detected the "odor of raw marijuana," the report said. After Outlaw asked Mill's permission to search the SUV, Mill allegedly said, "No you are gonna have to call the dogs," the police report said.
A narcotics dog called in "also alerted to the presence of drugs," Deputy City Solicitor Amanda Shoffel wrote in a court filing last week. "This gave police probable cause for the detention."
Mill's lawyers, in the pretrial memorandum, say the rapper is seeking "compensatory damage for the mental anguish, anxiety, embarrassment and humiliation caused by the unlawful stop" and detention.
They also say Mill, who in February 2012 was listed by MTV as the "Number 7 hottest MC," had to forfeit $39,000 for failing to make it to the Atlanta release party and lost another $22,500 for the chartered-jet cancellation.
And they contend Mill suffered a financial loss on a Puma endorsement contract. Mill's original contract gave him a base salary of $400,000. Because of his success, his agent was trying to negotiate a renewal contract with a base salary of $2 million, but due to fallout from Mill's police stop, the footwear company allegedly would only offer a base salary of $650,000.
Boyer, who was a 17-year veteran of the force, was fired last year after the Police Board of Inquiry cited him for a handful of departmental violations over his alleged seizure of $6,000 in cash from a man during a 2011 arrest.
He also had a high number of civilian complaints that resulted in numerous Internal Affairs investigations. Most of the complaints were unfounded or not sustained, police have said.
Mill and his lawyers seek to show that the city turned a blind eye to Boyer's behavior and that it failed to properly supervise him.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Rice, who is presiding over the case, issued an order Wednesday allowing Mill's attorneys to introduce as evidence details of some of the past Internal Affairs investigations into Boyer.
One investigation found Boyer improperly handled paperwork for dozens of marijuana arrests between 2006 and 2008.
Reached yesterday, Boyer said, "The evidence has proven that I didn't do anything wrong."
In an accompanying opinion, the judge wrote that some civilian complaints could be introduced as evidence because they support "an inference that Officer Boyer has attempted to justify warrantless searches based on meritless or disputed suspicions of criminal activity."
One complaint, from June 22, 2007, alleged that "Officer Boyer approached a group of people, used inappropriate language, and searched them, claiming he smelled marijuana, and no contraband was found," the opinion said.
Boyer said, "I'm innocent and I'm confident that justice will prevail."
Cogan this week declined to comment on the case before trial. Shoffel said her office doesn't comment on pending litigation and referred a reporter to her supervisor, Craig Straw, chief deputy city solicitor in the Law Department's civil-rights unit. He did not return a call from a reporter.
Not a Boy Scout
Mill himself is not a Boy Scout. He is on probation in a state case from a 2008 drug-and-gun conviction. He was sentenced to 11 1/2 to 23 months in jail and eight years' probation.
The rapper has also "posed for photos smoking what appears to be marijuana, fleeing from police, and posing with firearms," Shoffel wrote in a court filing. He "has also repeatedly referred to his drug use and criminal history in his song lyrics."
She also noted that Mill's "Dreams & Nightmares" cover "is a picture of a Rolex watch with a pair of handcuffs."
The civil trial, which starts Monday, will ultimately determine if Mill was unjustly treated by police.
On Twitter: @julieshawphilly