The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is stepping up to help defend Afroman from a lawsuit filed by Ohio cops who raided his house last year.
The Adams County Sheriff's Office originally raided Afroman's home last August, claiming they had evidence of drug possession, trafficking, and kidnapping. After they kicked the door in, cops found nothing but a vape pen and a couple of joints – a crime that is punishable by a maximum fine of $150. Afroman recorded the whole raid on his home security system and later used that footage in several social media posts and two music videos.
Last month, seven of the cops involved in the raid sued Afroman – whose legal name is Joseph Foreman – for using their faces in his videos without their consent. The cops also allege that Foreman directly profited from using their likeness for commercial profit and are therefore demanding that he give them a cut of his profits. That includes proceeds from the sales of his songs, his live shows, and his Afroman brands, which include beer and even legal weed.
Foreman has argued that his rights to air the video are protected by the First Amendment. He also alleges that cops stole $400 in cash from his house during the raid, thereby invalidating their right to privacy. Afroman promised to take the case to court, and the first hearing for the case was fittingly held on April 20th.
But the rapper is not alone in the fight – the ACLU and its local Ohio chapter just announced that they have his back. The day before the hearing, the advocacy group filed a proposed amicus brief supporting Afroman's case. The ACLU describes the cops' lawsuit as “a meritless effort to use a lawsuit to silence criticism” and “a classic entry into the SLAPP suit genre.”
A SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) is a relatively new tactic where one party uses legal action to discourage individuals or businesses from creating negative publicity about them. These lawsuits generally have no legal merit, but force the defendants to waste all of their time and money defending themselves in court.
The ACLU amicus brief argues that “the First Amendment protects the right of people to criticize government actors, including police officers... There is nothing the First Amendment protects more jealously than criticism of public officials on a matter of public concern.”
“One of the officers claims that it's an invasion of privacy for Afroman to post videos of police trashing the joint during the search — but that claim goes up in smoke,” the ACLU explained in a social media post. “Officers have no expectation of privacy when they're searching someone else's home in their official capacity.”
“In Afroman's music videos, he's taking his turn commenting about the officers' actions in the course of their official duties, which is protected speech,” the advocacy group added. “The fact that he makes money doing it changes nothing.... It's high time for police to stop suing citizens for unflattering commentary about them.”