Meek Mill has been behind bars since November for what his lawyer has steadfastly alleged was a bogus parole violation charge. Now, thanks to new evidence unveiled in an investigative report by the Philadelphia Inquirer, his lawyer tells Billboard he hopes to have Mill (born Robert Michael) home on bail soon. That bombshell report claims that the sole police witness in the rapper’s original 2008 drug and gun possession trial is on a secret list — whose contents have not yet been publicly revealed — maintained by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office of police officers “with a history of lying, racial bias, or brutality, in a move to block them from testifying in court,” according to the Inquirer.
“It’s mind-blowing, but it’s also just par for the course in this case,” the rapper’s attorney, Joseph Tacopina, tells Billboard. “You had a case where a judge gives a guy two to four years when the District Attorney and the probation officer [recommended] zero. In a case when the judge asked Meek to redo a Boyz II Men song and use her name in it… I mean it’s just par for the friggin’ course. It really is for this case. It’s over the top. It’s insane.”
Tacopina has been making those allegations against Judge Genece Brinkley since shortly after his client was sent back to prison, when the judge — who has declined repeated requests for comment from Billboard — sentenced Mill to two to four years in state prison for his alleged probation violations in the decade-old case. Brinkley cited a failed drug test and a failure to comply with a court order restricting Mill’s travel as her basis for sentencing. But Tacopina says this latest bombshell is simply outrageous.
On Wednesday (Feb. 14), Mill’s attorneys filed a Post-Conviction Relief Act petition, calling into question his original arrest in light of the Inquirer report. Tacopina tells Billboard that they’re looking to get the original charges withdrawn or dismissed voluntarily, or arrange for a new trial, adding that Judge Brinkley responded to the PCRA petition on Wednesday by setting a “post-conviction relief appeal” hearing for April.
“This is not a tactful game. This is not an NFL contest where you’re trying to out-maneuver and out-strategize the opponent by hiding the bad cops,” Tacopina says of the allegations in the newspaper’s report. “No, if you have a cop who made the arrest and has a history of lying on the witness stand, a history of corruption, you don’t hide that from the defense. You give that to the defense so that they can help determine if there’s any similar issues in that case.”
On Wednesday (Feb. 14) The Inquirer added another wrinkle to the story when it reported that in a sworn affidavit former Philadelphia police officer Jerold Gibson accused Mill’s arresting officer, Reggie Graham, of lying under oath a decade ago in order to put the rapper behind bars. Gibson disputed the account of the incident given by Graham, who was the only witness to testify against Mill at his 2008 trial; Graham claimed that Mill pointed a gun at police as they tried to arrest him outside of a suspected drug stash house in Southwest Philly.
The PCRA petition cited the sworn affidavits by Gibson and another former Philadelphia police officer, Jeffrey Walker, which both called into question arresting officer Graham’s credibility. The report also noted, however, that both Gibson and Walker would face credibility issues if they were called to testify on Mill’s behalf. Gibson was fired from the Police Department in 2013 and sentenced to six months to a year in jail after he was caught in an FBI sting stealing from suspected drug dealers and Walker pleaded guilty to similar federal theft charges in 2014 and later served as a government witness in a case against 6 former colleagues on the police narcotics field unit; in acquitting those officers in 2015 the jury largely rejected Walker’s testimony.
Tacopina says hiding information that would be favorable to the defense is a “serious” violation of the law, one that he calls “mind-boggling,” noting that according to the first Inquirer report 800 other defendants either had their convictions overturned or cases dismissed because of the group of officers who are alleged to have lied and falsified documents. “But you know, it should have been at least 801 because nobody notified Meek or his attorney that the only cop who gave evidence against him at his trial — evidence that Meek says to this day is a lie, said it back then was a lie — is a guy who’s on some no-fly list for the police department, for the DA’s office. But no one told us.”
Mill was arrested in 2007 on drug dealing and gun possession charges and sentenced to 11-23 months in jail. Since then, he has had numerous issues with parole violations, the most recent of which landed him in state prison for 2-4 years in November, sparking protests and shows of support from other rappers while his attorneys have sought to appeal the ruling.
Veteran New York defense attorney Stacey Richman — who has worked on behalf of Lil Wayne, Ja Rule and a number of other rap stars in high-profile criminal cases in the past — tells Billboard the details of the Mill case remind her of one she had that included similar discrepancies. “I had a guy with some prior arrests, and based on a search warrant, they came into his house. And basically it’s one officer testifying, so I researched the officer and found out a federal court had already declared him not credible because his own testimony so insanely varied from the others,” says Richman, who has no firsthand knowledge of the Mill case, but has read the Inquirer‘s report.
Given what she’s seen, Richman, who is friendly with Tacopina, says she’s confident Mill could be released based on the evidence of the alleged official malfeasance. “From what I discerned from the article, this guy was brazenly breaking the law for years, and somebody knew about it,” she says. “And what you also have to know is in terms of the district attorney’s office, if one of them knows, it’s reputed knowledge for all because they all have the responsibility — it’s called ‘Brady [disclosure]’ — to turn it over. So it really can be extremely significant.”
Despite all that, Richman says each court and jurisdiction has its own “political subcontext,” which can lead to caution when setting precedent in cases such as this. “So is anything a guarantee? No,” she says. “But these mounting aspects look awful. Even an appellate court, like a higher court would have to say, ‘there’s a lot of problems here.'”
Wednesday’s Inquirer report notes that D.A. Larry Krasner says he needs at least three months to come up with a plan to address the issue of the two dozen cops named on the list of suspect investigators and, regardless, the decision to grant Mill a new trail would lie with Judge Brinkley, who originally sentenced the rapper in 2008 based largely on Graham’s testimony.
When it comes down to it, Tacopina says Graham’s claims that Mill was in possession of crack cocaine and that he pointed a gun at the responding officers is the crux of the allegedly false information that has kept his client on probation nearly a decade. “First of all, he wasn’t in possession of crack cocaine. There are witnesses who will testify to that,” says Tacopina adding that the allegation about the gun is even more outrageous.
“Meek Mill [is] sitting on a porch, an 18-year-old kid by himself, four cops rolling up to him, guns drawn, and he pulls out his own gun? And points at the cops? That’s called suicide by cop… You think he’d be here to write his songs?,” he says. “You think he’d be here selling Grammy-nominated albums? You think he’d be here and be doing all the things he’s been doing if he pointed a gun at four narcotics detectives that had their guns drawn?… It’s insane.” According to the Inquirer, Gibson’s affidavit claims that he never saw Mill “lift his gun and point it,” but rather that he observed him “lift the gun out of his waistband in a motion that suggested he was trying to discard the gun.” Gibson and Walker also corroborated Mill’s claim that Graham and other officers beat the rapper during his arrest.
Tacopina says that Mill has always maintained his innocence. “?It’s outrageous what they’ve done to him. This system has defecated on Meek Mill,” he says. The current plan is to file the immediate motion for bail based on the new evidence, with Tacopina happy to let prosecutors take their time investigating the claims, but adamant that his client not spent another minute in jail as they do.
“I don’t know how and I don’t know exactly when, but I know this travesty of justice will be righted,” he says. “I know this travesty will be corrected because it can’t stand in the face of all of these outrageous facts that show that Meek Mill is sitting in jail illegally, improperly, and immorally.”