A Second Cop Said Under Oath That Meek Mill Pointed Gun at Him, Court Records Reveal
As the movement to overturn the rapper’s 10-year-old conviction on drug and gun changes gathers momentum, a sworn statement long buried in sentencing notes complicates the picture.
In the age of Trump, the fight to #freeMeekMill has sucked up as much media oxygen as any story could without an appearance by Trump himself.
Coverage around the hashtag-driven movement has been ubiquitous all year, including a jailhouse interview with the rapper by Rolling Stone in March and a hit from NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt. And on Monday, Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner lent support to the cause, declaring through assistant DA Liam Riley that questions surrounding the credibility of the police officer who arrested and testified against Mill warrant throwing out the rapper’s conviction and granting him a new trial.
But a piece of information gleaned from old court records, which appears never to have been reported, complicates the story that Mill, whose legal name is Robert Williams, has been telling since his trial and conviction on drug- and gun-related charges 10 years ago.
In recent weeks, the rapper’s defense team has focused on the fact that former Philadelphia police officer Reginald V. Graham, the sole witness against the rapper at his original trial in 2008, wound up on a list compiled by the city’s former DA of cops deemed “tainted” and too untrustworthy to testify without permission from higher-ups. During Meek’s trial, Graham had testified that on January 23, 2007, he developed evidence Mill was dealing drugs from an alleged stash house in South Philly. When he returned the next day to arrest Mill, Graham claimed, the then-unknown rapper pulled a gun and pointed it at police. Mill was subsequently convicted and sentenced to up to 23 months in prison.
After Graham’s presence on the DA’s list surfaced this February, Mill’s legal team filed an appeal to overturn the conviction. The rapper’s attorneys also filed a sworn affidavit by former police officer Jerold Gibson, who says he was on the scene during Mill’s arrest and that he saw Mill lift the gun “out of his waistband in a motion that suggested he was trying to discard the gun.” (Gibson, the former son-in-law of one-time Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, was kicked off the force when he was caught five years ago — and served a prison sentence — for stealing money from an alleged drug dealer.) His words supported Mill’s claim that he never pointed the gun.
It turns out, however, that at the rapper’s original sentencing in January 2009, a second officer provided a sworn statement indicating that he was one of the officers Mill had pointed his gun at before the arrest.
In a victim impact statement by police officer James Johnson — listed in court transcripts as “sworn,” meaning that he was under oath — Johnson said that on the day of Mill’s arrest he was carrying a battering ram toward the suspected stash house when suddenly Mill “has the gun pointed right to my head … I fell backwards and tried to take cover.” (At trial, Graham testified police had to draw their own weapons and disarm Mill, who alleges he gave himself up and suffered a wholly unnecessary beating in the process.)
“I was blindsided by a .40 caliber handgun that was bigger than mine and I’m defenseless and I have … two babies at home,” Johnson continued. “What do I tell my wife after that? I can’t tell her anything.”
Johnson, reached by phone, declined to be interviewed for this article.
Another officer, Sylvia Jones, was listed in court records as helping Graham watch Mill and gather evidence for the warrant, though she didn’t testify. Jones didn’t return a call requesting an interview for this article.
Given the amount of time that has passed since Mill’s conviction and the circumstances surrounding the case, if the conviction were ultimately overturned it’s an open question whether Krasner would push for a new trial at which Johnson and Jones could be called as witnesses. Ben Waxman, the spokesperson for the District Attorney’s office, said that “while we have made the decision to support a new trial for Meek Mill, we have not made any decision on a retrial at this time.”
Defense attorneys Brian McMonagle and Joe Tacopina, part of the team representing the rapper, also didn’t respond to a request to be interviewed for this article.
Mill’s predicament sparked outrage back in November when he was first sent back to jail by Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Genece E. Brinkley on a two- to four-year sentence for technical violations of his probation. Some of the criticism has been personal: Mill’s attorneys have accused her of holding a “vendetta” against the rapper. Rapper and music executive Jay-Z, in a November New York Times op-ed, wrote powerfully of how Mill’s ongoing incarceration symbolizes the way entire generations of young, black males are kept tethered to the legal system long after their crimes were committed and their sentences were served, helping to drive a far broader movement to free the rapper.