Civil Liberties

The Man Did Bust Our Music


Rock writer Phyllis Pollack recently put in a FOIA request for the FBI's file on James Brown. In the June Rock & Rap Confidential, Dave Marsh describes her discoveries:

The charge that sent James Brown to prison was a so-called "blue light violation." It's all but unprecedented to be given six years in prison for such a crime (refusing to pull over for the cops), let alone receive that punishment from two states. (A young white man sentenced for the same violation the same day received a suspended sentence.)

James Brown wasn't sent to prison because he was a PCP-crazed soul man with a gun. He went to prison because he fled the cops, all right, but he fled them with good reason, For eighteen months Brown had been targeted for harassment by cops in Aiken, South Carolina and Richmond County, Georgia, which sits right alongside Beech Island, SC, where the Browns resided. It began when Brown got into a fender bender on the Georgia highway he had to use to get home. That one resulted in Brown being jailed after some very dubious proceedings, and allegedly being punched in the mouth.

The FBI report also reveals that Brown did not lead cops on a high speed chase through two states. The police admitted that they followed Brown but they never "chased" him–they never even turned on their lights or sirens. Nevertheless, there were 17 bullet holes in the cab of Brown's truck when it was over. Brown did have a shotgun, of course. It was unloaded and "inoperative." Allegedly, the police shot into his car while it was parked in South Carolina, where Brown came to a stop and began talking to local officers. (One Georgia officer took the trouble to knock out the glass in the passenger window with the butt of his gun.)

The allegation that Brown was high on PCP came from a local police analysis of an improperly administered blood test. The cops first said that it showed Brown high on cocaine, then changed their story. The next day, when Brown was again arrested, he was not out careening around the countryside high on anything. He was at the Georgia War Veterans' Home in Augusta, visiting his father.

The file itself doesn't seem to be online, so we'll have to depend on that account for now. I'll keep my ears open for further news.

Elsewhere in Reason: My tribute to Brown.