Back in January 2007, before the glitz, glam and fame, Robert Rihmeek Williams, now popularly known as the multi-platinum rapper Meek Mill, was still a rising Philly battle rapper. In a searing and powerful Amazon docuseries, that’s executive produced by Jay-Z, viewers are entrenched in the world that allowed for such a miscarriage of justice in Mill’s case and would be the start of him being trapped in the judicial system for over a decade and counting.
At face value, it may be easy for some to dismiss Mill’s legal woes. Some may say, “Oh, he should have never had a gun in the first place” or “He’s a rich rapper. If he got in this situation, then it’s by his own doing.” But what’s important to know here, and what the five-part series sets out to do, is that none of this is about Mill’s case in particular, but an indictment of the entire judicial system. Anyone familiar with Mill’s case likely knows the more recent alleged misconduct headlines about the judge that was assigned to his case but to understand the full weight of the situation, you have to go back to the original, alleged crime that set all of this into motion.
As depicted in the series, in an attempted raid on his house after a cop alleged that he saw the teen selling cocaine, Mill, by his accounts, placed his gun on the ground and prepared to be arrested on his doorstep. However, things went awry. Mill says that police officers brutally attacked him, which resulted in the bloody injuries that are visible in his now-infamous mugshot. The assault was so brutal that it left both of his lips and an eye swollen, and one of his braids were ripped out. The then-19-year-old Mill was arrested on numerous charges, the most serious involving claims that he was selling crack cocaine and that he pointed his gun at the police officers, both of which he ardently denies. As Mill says in the docuseries, he never sold cocaine and there is no way he would have pointed a gun at a group of police because he knew that they would have killed him right then and there.
Meek Mill's infamous mugshot from his arrest in 2007 is used predominately in the marketing of 'Free Meek' (Photo: Amazon)
Facing considerable jail time, he was sentenced to 11 to 23 months behind bars by Judge Genece Brinkley, who by Meek’s accounts in the docuseries, thought that she was giving him a break. That “break” would haunt him for years. Once he was released from jail in 2009 and began his five-year probation sentence, she continued to handle his case. Over the next several years, Mill would be summoned in and out of Brinkley’s courtroom for parole violations including things such as failing to let her know of his travel plans. His probation sentence was extended to over ten years. Brinkley required him to do things such as take etiquette classes that he would have to pay for to meet the requirements of his parole. All of this led Mill to believe Brinkley was shaping him as her model subject. Of the numerous violations accrued by Mill over the years, little to none were inherently criminal. The seemingly constant parole violations negatively impacted his career over the years, forcing him to miss shows and more. His attorneys believe the constant violations and arrests on Brinkley’s watch have cost him millions of dollars.
The definitive reading of Mill’s case, a Rolling Stone article by Paul Solotaroff (who appears in the docuseries), was the first published work that really described the entire story behind Mill’s incarceration. The piece explains, “It became a grim ritual: Each time he dropped a record, she’d jail him for some violation or restrict his travel.”
Somehow, though he hadn’t even been convicted of any crime since his initial arrest in 2008, Mill was in and out of the courtroom and it reached new heights in 2017 when Brinkley ordered him in prison for two to four years over a failed drug test and an unapproved travel violation. A movement would come out of this, calling for Mill’s release, #FreeMeek.
Meek Mill in 'Free Meek' (Photo: Amazon)
In response, the firm Quest Research & Investigations (QRI) was able to uncover key details not only about Brinkley’s history but about Mill’s initial arrest. QRI partners Luke Brindle-Khym and Tyler Maroney are featured in the docuseries and have played a pivotal role. During their investigation, major red flags came up concerning Reggie Graham, the cop that said he saw Mill selling drugs, which resulted in the raid. Graham was also the responding officer when Mill was arrested. He was a part of the Philly PD’s Narcotics Field Unit, a unit that a Philly law group, The Fishman Firm, says indictments show “engaged in a pattern of threats, assault, robbery, kidnapping and false arrests to extort more than $500,000 in cash, drugs, watches and clothing from individuals targeted as drug dealers. These officers would hold people over balconies until passwords for safes were obtained and cash recovered. [They would] Beat people with their service weapons and steal from them. [They would] take money and drugs from homes and make no report of the seizures. Alleged drug dealers were taken to hotels or the police station and held for days until they relented and allowed police to search their homes and steal money, drugs and other personal property.”
The investigators and Mill’s lawyers were able to uncover cops who have reports that are contradictory to what Graham (the main witness in Mill's trial) said happened the night of the arrest. One even signed an affidavit. All reports back up the claims and evidence that Mill stated from the beginning--that he never should have been charged with those crimes.
“I think without a doubt, the most surprising evidence we uncovered was the arresting officer (Graham) was known to the Philadelphia Police Department to have credibility problems. [He had] been investigated by the internal affairs department and had conversations with the FBI,” QRI partner Tyler Maroney told Shadow And Act. “His credibility was known to them, and they still continued to rely on him as a police officer for a decade more, even after Meek’s case. It ultimately came out in the Do Not Call List, [an internal tally of current and former Philadelphia police officers who the DA's office kept a list of in order to keep them off of witness stands due to their allegations of misconduct and/or corruptions], which is featured in the series and shows that the police department knew that and so did the DA’s office, and the DA office refused to call Graham to testify in cases they were making.” The DA's office did not want to put the officers on the list on stands because trials in which they testify could one day be overturned if word got out about their allegations. A court order ended up getting the list released to public defenders, and subsequently the press. Graham, who appears on the list, would not appear on camera to talk for Free Meek.
So, how could the problems as big as the ones associated with this case happen in the first place? Maroney said, “The information that you need doesn't necessarily live where you think it lives. Our first assignment was to investigate the credibility and potential conflicts with Genece Brinkley. After we spent some time examining her, we learned that that’s not what we really needed to do. We needed to do what no one had done before, which was to go back to the genesis of this case in the very beginning. It may not have been just the judge, but much more than that: the judge, the prosecutor’s office. And I’m not suggesting that there is a mass conspiracy, but we had enough experience in identifying this kind of wrongdoing, we pulled out our playbook from prior cases and worked with the Innocence Project and applied those lessons to Meek’s case."
While it may be effortless to look at Meek’s case differently because of his status, it’s bigger than that. Maroney added, “It’s impossible to compute how many people are going through what Meek is going through. And one of the things Meek is very clear about saying is that it's not just one component of his ordeal. It’s not just the arrest, the case or the sentence. It’s a compilation of many of those. The worst was his probation. He knew he would be under surveillance. He was only around 20 then, so he was looking at a third of his life. Meek’s case is only different because he has the resources and celebrity to fight this. As Jay-Z says in the documentary, ‘We gotta do something about this.’ That this is trying to right this wrong.”
Jay-Z in 'Free Meek' (Photo: Amazon)
On July 24, just days before the Amazon series was set to drop, a Pennsylvania appeals court overturned the original 2008 conviction on the drug and gun charges. At the time, Mill said in a statement, “The past 11 years have been mentally and emotionally challenging, but I’m ecstatic that justice prevailed. Unfortunately, millions of people are dealing with similar issues in our country and don’t have the resources to fight back like I did. We need to continue supporting them.”
“His conviction was not overturned due to the behavior of the judge, but the evidence we found that the police officer who arrested Meek was corrupt. That was much more useful and we were fortunate enough to say that it was our idea to look through the arrest log,” said Maroney.
It will be decided soon whether the case will be thrown out completely or if there will be a retrial. After more than a decade, Brinkley has been removed from Mill’s case. She cannot comment on any matters concerning the case, but had a lawyer deny all of the claims in the series, including the odd, Boyz II Men request in which she allegedly asked Meek Mill and Nicki Minaj behind closed doors to do a remix to "On Bended Me" as a tribute to her. As recent as this week, a new judge is presiding over the case.
“In today’s climate and in today’s political atmosphere when we have so much hate coming from the top of government circles it seemed like criminal justice reform had made substantial strides that [now] seem to be rolled back. This is a case that shows that with time, effort and focus on where the wrongdoing is, there can be some type of reform. For those who want to critique Meek because of his money, resources and power, what he’s doing with his resources is committing millions of dollars and encouraging others to commit tens and millions of dollars to the Reform Alliance, his new nonprofit that’s being used to bring advocacy, litigation and investigations to attack the system in these types of cases,” said Maroney.
Free Meek premieres August 8 on Amazon Prime Video. Meek Mill is in post-production on the upcoming film Twelve, in which he stars with Jahi Winston, Teyonah Parris and Will Catlett.
Photo: Getty Images