Jury rules against rapper Meek Mill in civil suit

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Meek Mill takes off his tie as soon as he exits federal court yesterday.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Meek Mill takes off his tie as soon as he exits federal court yesterday.
Posted: May 02, 2014

A JURY yesterday ruled against Philly rapper Meek Mill in his civil-rights lawsuit against the city, a cop and a former cop over a 2012 traffic stop.

The mostly white panel of four men and four women found that Officer Alvin Outlaw and then-Officer Andre Boyer did not unlawfully stop, detain and arrest Mill on the night of Oct. 31, 2012.

Mill, 26, whose real name is Robert Williams, showed no reaction when the jury forewoman announced the verdicts after about two hours of deliberation.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Rice read a note from the jury that said: "Although we voted unanimously that Mr. Williams' Fourth Amendment right was not violated, both plaintiff and the defendant were in the wrong and made mistakes."

It was not clarified if the jury meant to write "defendants" or if they were referring to Boyer or Outlaw.

Dressed in a white collared shirt, blue jeans and a tie, Mill said afterward of the verdicts, "I can't really be surprised."

"They ain't from where I'm from," Mill said of the jurors. "I [don't] really expect them to understand what I go through."

He added: "I respect their decision, though."

Boyer said after the verdict, "I'm happy and I stand by what the jury said."

Six of the jurors were white. One elderly woman was black. And one man appeared to be of South Asian descent.

Mill was a rising young African-American rap star who had grown up in North Philly when he was stopped by police while driving his black Range Rover on Girard Avenue near 10th Street about 7:50 p.m. on Oct. 31, 2012. The cops said they stopped him because his windows were heavily tinted, a violation of the state motor-vehicle code.

The hip-hop artist had just released his debut album, "Dreams & Nightmares," and was trying to catch a chartered jet that night from Philly to Atlanta, where he had a scheduled release party. But because he was arrested and detained by the cops - who said they smelled marijuana in his SUV - he was kept in a police holding cell for hours and missed his performance in Atlanta that night.

Deputy City Solicitor Amanda Shoffel told jurors in her closing argument yesterday that the cops were justified in stopping and detaining Mill.

"What you're here to determine is probable cause for arrest," she said. "As soon as the window rolls down and Officer Outlaw smells marijuana, that's probable cause for arrest."

The SUV had tinted windows and this was a high-crime area, she said. "Any reasonable officer faced with those circumstances would have conducted an investigation," she said.

Boyer and Outlaw, who are both black, had approached the Range Rover and testified in court that they smelled pot in the SUV after the windows were rolled down.

Mill's lead attorney, Dennis Cogan, said in his 90-minute closing argument that the cops falsely claimed to have smelled pot in the SUV only after a crowd had gathered at the scene and recognized Mill. They needed a pretext for having detained Mill for longer than just a traffic stop, he said.

A third officer who was in the patrol vehicle, Michael Vargas, did not tell a dispatcher over police radio that any of the cops had smelled pot and didn't request a drug-sniffing dog until 33 minutes after the stop, Cogan said.

The dog, "Brix," alerted to the presence of drugs by scratching the SUV. Mill and his three male passengers were then cuffed and taken to the 22nd Police District, at 17th Street and Montgomery Avenue, and held until a search of the SUV was completed.

No drugs were found. Mill and his companions were not charged with anything.

Cogan said Mill's lawsuit was not just about Mill's Fourth Amendment civil right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, but about the "institutional indifference" of the city in properly disciplining cops and preventing future bad behavior.

Cogan pointed much of the blame on Boyer, who was the subject of numerous Internal Affairs investigations.

He read to the jury various citizen complaints against Boyer in which Boyer stopped someone on the street or in a vehicle, but no contraband was found. Cogan described Boyer as "a cobra who's ready to strike anybody."

In some of the citizen complaints, Boyer was exonerated. Cogan contended that was a fault of the police department for giving him slaps on the wrists.

Then last year, following a 2011 complaint by a man named Wurlin Graham who said Boyer stole $6,000 from him, Boyer was fired from the force for lying during the official investigation into the alleged theft. The theft claim itself was not sustained.

Regarding "Brix," Cogan contended the dog scratched the SUV because he wanted to please his handler. "No one loves you the way your dog loves you," Cogan said. "They want to please. They scratch a door. Do they get reinforcements? . . . How many times does the dog get patted on the head, probably gets a treat?"

Shoffel, however, said: "A dog has no bias. A dog has no intent and a dog has no motive in this case. The dog was trained to alert in the presence of narcotics, which it did."

Mill testified at the trial, saying he did not have drugs in the car.

He contended he suffered emotional distress from the arrest and a financial loss of $394,000 because he had to cancel his Atlanta show and other performances in Miami, Chicago and Africa because of fallout from the arrest.

"Imagine how exciting that would have been for a black kid from North Philadelphia," Cogan said. "It's not just about the money. It's the emotional loss."


On Twitter: @julieshawphilly

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