by Kevin Bliss
A Pennsylvania appellate court granted Meek Mill (born Robert Rihmeek Williams) a new trial with a different judge following a motion alleging the police officer who testified against him, Reginald Graham, had perjured himself and the presiding judge, Genece Brinkley, exhibited extreme bias.
The case made national headlines after Mill’s probation was violated in November 2017 for popping a wheelie on his dirt bike and being involved in a scuffle at an airport. Judge Brinkley’s imposition of an excessive sentence of two to four years made him a symbol for the need for judicial reform.
Mill grew up in North Philadelphia where he became a local legend as a rapper. In 2007, he was arrested for possessing a firearm, assault on law enforcement and 17 other charges. He said that he left his cousin’s house to go to a store, and was armed for his protection. According to Mill, the police approached him and he immediately placed the gun on the ground and raised his hands. Nonetheless, the officers brutally assaulted him, cuffed him, took him back to his cousin’s house and used his head as a battering ram to open a door, he stated.
Conversely, Graham testified that he had seen Mill selling crack cocaine the previous day, which gave him the foundation for the raid. He said when the officers approached Mill, he pointed a gun at them threateningly.
Mill pleaded guilty to seven of the 19 charges. He was sentenced to 11 to 23 months in jail and 10 years’ probation. Mill continued rapping and made a career for himself, collaborating with such artists as Drake, John Legend and Mary J. Blige. He released his debut album, Dreams and Nightmares, in 2012.
Mill was doing a promo tour when Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast coast. Changing his flight plan to accommodate the storm resulted in a technical probation violation. His managers estimated the violation cost him over $30 million in revenue. That was just the beginning of a series of judicial decisions affecting Mill’s career, culminating in the violation that resulted in a two-to-four-year prison sentence.
Along with Judge Brinkley’s open ridicule of Mill’s management team, Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, and her attempt to privately influence Mill into a remix of a Boyz II Men song, his defense team felt the judge was taking an unusual interest in the case and unsuccessfully asked that she recuse herself.
With supporters like Jay-Z, Michael Rubin, Robert Kraft and Clara Wu Tsai, a movement sympathetic to Mill began trending, called #FreeMeekMill. “I never really looked at it like a nightmare. I looked at it as real life for a black kid in America,” Mill said in an interview.
In August 2019, Amazon Prime released the docuseries “Free Meek.” Produced by Jay-Z and Rolling Stone reporter Paul Solotaroff, it chronicled Mill’s 10-year journey through the criminal justice system.
“This is a story in which there’s injustice in every crack and crevice,” said Solotaroff.
The series highlighted the relentless persistence of outside investigating team Quest Research and Investigations (QRI), founded by journalist Tyler Maroney and attorney Luke Brindle-Khym.
“We explicitly seek out cases that allow us to feel like we are contributing to the public good,” Maroney stated. “Doing investigations to exonerate the wrongly convicted, it’s part and parcel of a larger understanding of the criminal justice system.”
QRI first investigated Judge Brinkley and her professionalism. Although they found her personal life was filled with lawsuits against her as a landlord of several properties, QRI could find no evidence of wrongdoing in the handling of Mill’s case. They then focused on the original arrest. Ultimately, they learned that Graham, the officer who testified against Mills, was under investigation by internal affairs and the FBI for his actions in several arrests. He also had been placed on a “do not call” list by the district attorney’s office because his testimony was not deemed credible.
QRI interviewed other police officers who served with Graham and were able to get one, Jerold Gibson, to sign a sworn affidavit refuting everything Graham had testified to in Mill’s case.
Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner wrote that Mill “was unfairly treated in a case that exemplifies the destruction caused by excessive supervision, instances of corruption, and unfair processes in our criminal courts.”
Mill’s conviction was overturned in April 2018 after he had served five months in prison, and his case was assigned to a new judge. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor firearm charge in August 2019, resulting in no further time in jail or on probation; all the other charges were dismissed. Meanwhile, Judge Brinkley is reportedly under investigation by the FBI for failing to be impartial in Mill’s case, and Mill co-founded a criminal justice reform group called the REFORM Alliance, that focuses on probation and parole. [See: PLN, May 2019, p.56].
“What’s happening to Meek Mill is just one example of how our criminal justice system entraps and harasses hundreds of thousands of black people every day,” Jay-Z wrote in an editorial. The main difference in Mill’s case is that he had the money to hire attorneys and investigators – an indication that wealth trumps race in our justice system.
Sources: fastcompany.com, washingtonpost.com, esquire.com, newsweek.com, npr.org, reformalliance.com
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