A group of police officers who raided the home of rapper Afroman have sued the musician for "emotional distress" after he used footage of the botched raid in music videos for his songs “Lemon Pound Cake” and “Will You Help Me Repair My Door,” as well as in social media posts. The officers allege they have faced embarrassment, ridicule, humiliation, and loss of reputation from Afroman’s posts.
Afroman was never charged with a crime. The footage was taken by Afroman's wife and Afroman's home security systems, meaning that there are no copyright issues here. Courts have given wide latitude to citizens filming the police and have generally decided that filming the police in public is a Constitutionally-protected activity. Filming within one's own residence using security cameras is, generally, legal.
The plaintiffs are Shawn D. Cooley, Justin Cooley, Michael D. Estep, Shawn D, Grooms, Brian Newland, Lisa Phillips, and Randolph L. Walters, Jr., according to a copy of the complaint obtained by Motherboard. They all hold various ranks with the Adams County Sheriff’s Office. TMZ first reported the lawsuit on Wednesday.
The group is also suing Afroman’s record label Hungry Hustler Records; a company called Media Access (the company which Afroman uses to distribute his music is actually called Music Access); and three John Does who the plaintiffs believe are business entities in Adams County connected to the case. Specifically, the plaintiffs allege Afroman and others used the officers’ personas without authorization and violated their right to privacy. The plaintiffs are seeking damages of $25,000 per four counts, and that Afroman and the other defendants stop publishing the officers’ personas for commercial purposes.
As the complaint tells it, in August law enforcement officials from the Adams County Sheriff’s Office searched Afroman’s home in response to a search warrant. Afroman was not home at the time, but his wife was and filmed parts of the search on her phone. That footage included the faces of the officers. Security cameras installed in the home also recorded the officers. The warrant was executed for an investigation into drug possession, drug trafficking, and kidnapping, according to a copy of the warrant obtained by Ohio outlet FOX19 NOW.
Afroman then took that footage and used it to create music videos about the search, the complaint continues. He also posted content to Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, “TicTok,” and Instagram, it adds.
“These music videos clearly portray the images, likenesses, and distinctive appearances (‘personas’), of many of the officers involved in the search, including those of all Plaintiffs,” the complaint reads.
One example was Afroman wearing a shirt with an image of Shawn Cooley beside a picture of Peter Griffin from Family Guy. Another shows Shawn Grooms next to a picture of the Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Another is of Afroman fans holding up merchandise that has images of Cooley. More include images of other officers.
One Instagram post shows an image of Judge Gabbert, who signed the warrant to search Afroman’s residence.
“This is the judge that signed the warrant that said kidnapping,” the caption reads. “Vote him out before he signs a fictitious warrant then send some over reacting paranoid KKKops to your House jeopardizing the lives of you and your family, Stealing your money and disconnecting your home video security surveillance system. Vote out judge Roy Droopy Gabbert,” it continues. (Afroman alleged officers stole $400 during the raid).
The complaint claims that the police officers have been “subjected to ridicule” by members of the public who have seen some of Afroman’s posts. The episode has allegedly “made it more difficult and even more dangerous” for them to carry out their official duties, the complaint adds. Some of that activity has included anonymous death threats, it says.
“As a result of Defendants' actions, Plaintiffs have suffered damages, including all profits derived from and attributable to Defendants' unauthorized use of Plaintiffs' personas, and have suffered humiliation, ridicule, mental distress, embarrassment, and loss of reputation,” it reads.
Afroman previously told VICE that after the raid he lost out on gigs and felt angry and powerless.
“I'm a civilian. Then, to make matters worse, I'm a Black civilian in America,” he said. The police department was not designed to serve and protect me. I felt powerless yet angry. These guys can destroy my property and I literally couldn't do nothing about it. The only thing I could do was take to my pen and sing about the injustice. And to my surprise, it's going over well!”
Update: This piece has been updated to clarify that Music Access is the company Afroman uses to distribute his music. This is despite the lawsuit targeting “Media Access.”