Last Updated: March 10, 3 p.m. p.m.
The State Attorney’s Office has yet to file a charge against Joseph Washington almost seven weeks after the 18-year-old Matanzas High School student’s arrest on an accusation that the rap song Washington composed and posted to SoundCloud was a death threat against a dean at Matanzas. In an unusual disclosure by its own prosecutor on Monday, the State Attorney’s Office also appears indecisive as to whether to file a felony or a misdemeanor charge, an indecision that signals the tenuousness of a case initially cast by the sheriff’s office as a second-degree felony charge, and that quickly lent itself to first amendment implications, as even the prosecutor also acknowledged.
Washington, who was freed on his own recognizance, has twice been arraigned since, the last time on Monday, and twice heard the court say he’d have to come back for another arraignment, since the state wasn’t ready with a charge to arraign him on. He’ll be due back on April 12. Meanwhile he’s been walking with a GPS ankle monitor.
The failed arraignment on Monday nevertheless opened a window on the defense’s impending First Amendment strategy, and on the matter of the ankle monitor that Washington has had to wear.
“This is wrong. That’s all I would say,” Assistant Public Defender Spencer O’Neal told Circuit Judge Terence Perkins. “This is unconstitutional infringement and censorship of somebody’s right to speak, free speech. We don’t put ankle monitors on Eminem when he talks about possibly doing something fictionally to his Baby Mama Kim, we didn’t do that, because it’s wrong. We shouldn’t be doing that to Mr. Washington.”
Washington had been called into the dean’s office over a dress code violation. Asked to address it, Washington allegedly responded with an obscenity directing the dean to perform an oral act, and was suspended. Washington proceeded to post “Bii Blouga Racial Profiling,” a nearly seven-minute song that strings together an amalgam of racist, sexist and obscene lyrics seemingly directed at the 31-year-old dean and his wife, all in the mouth of a character calling himself the Grim Reaper, and including what sounds like an explicit threat against the dean or his wife (“You should be afraid of me cause I’ll come and take your life / Smoke ya with this Uzi like…”) Washington was arrested a week later after the recording made its way to the Matanzas administration’s ears and the dean became concerned for his and his family’s safety. Washington was booked at the county jail on a second-degree felony charge of written threats to kill, and quickly released.
The charge must be ratified by the State Attorney in what’s called an information for the case to proceed. Meanwhile, Washington must comply with conditions of his pre-trial release terms: no bond, but a no-contact order with the dean and his family, no going near Matanzas High School, wearing the GPS monitor at all time, and paying for it. It costs $3.10 per day. The bill so far: $130. Washington is indigent.
O’Neal had filed a motion to have the ankle monitor removed. He finds it unnecessary and a financial hardship on the Washington family. He and Assistant State Attorney Tara Libby argued that motion before the judge Monday. The judge opted not to have the ankle monitor removed–but didn’t rule on the motion, either, since a subsequent motion challenging the First Amendment legality of the state’s claim will follow immediately once the state does file its charge. “I do want to hear that argument if it’s still in this court,” Perkins said. “If not, I understand it’ll go to Judge Distler. So to that extent while I’m not changing it now, I’m going to defer ruling until I hear that argument on First Amendment.”
But the brief hearing was revealing, with the prosecutor at one point all but conceding the defense’s argument that the ankle monitor is not essential, since the prosecution was willing to trade it for a bond amount.
“He’s out on pre-trial supervision with the ankle monitor,” O’Neal said. “He lives with his grandmother, he’s in high school, he works–I think he’s trying to get another job at McDonald’s, and he can’t afford it. His grandmother is on a fixed income.”
But Libby said the ankle monitor was “part of the victim’s wishes, and we would object to removal of the GPS monitor.”
“Do you have any idea where you’re supposed to stay away from? Obviously you’re supposed to stay away from him, but do you know where you’re supposed to stay away from?” O’Neil asked Washington, who’d walked up to the podium in front of Perkins. (Washington of course refrained from making untoward comments to the judge: Had his conduct in the dean’s office mirrored his conduct in court yesterday morning, he would likely not have been in court to start with.)
“I have no idea where he lives,” Washington said. He knows he has to has to remain 5,000 feet away from the high school, and if he sees him on the street, he has to walk away, though the monitor doesn’t prevent him from seeing him randomly.
“Realistically, the GPS monitor is preventing you from going back to the high school, is that correct?”
The district is continuing to educate Washington remotely: ankle or no ankle, he’s not allowed on campus. He lives with his mother and father. Asked if they lived on a fixed income, he could not answer, but said they didn’t have a lot of money.
His mother addressed the court and said her first bill was “a hundred and some dollars.” She said she was on fixed income. He husband lost his job and just started a new one. Referring to her son, she said “he doesn’t go anywhere but to the park down the street from where we live, to work and back home,” other than the four or five times she’s had to take him to the county jail when the ankle monitor “breaks off.” She described the monitor as causing more hardship than in costs. The McDonald’s income, Washington said, is owed for rent at the house, where “it’s a struggle.”
O’Neal’s position: “The ankle monitor really isn’t serving much of a purpose in this case.” If it was intended to keep him from campus, that’s been achieved by the district anyway, he said, “to alleviate the situation between he and the alleged victim in this case. So in reality the GPS monitor isn’t really serving a purpose. All it’s doing is putting a financial hardship on a poor family.”
The judge corrected: “The GPS monitor isn’t keeping him from school. The no-contact order is keeping him from school. The GPS monitor I assume is in place to assure compliance with the specific no-contact order that’s directed to a school employee and his family.”
“In reality Mr. Washington doesn’t even know where this employee lives,” O’Neal said. “My understanding is he doesn’t live in the county. He doesn’t have an area where he’s been told to stay away from. They don’t want to tell him where this guy lives.”
O’Neal then opened his First Amendment argument: “Second, we’re kind of participating in something that’s unconstitutional. This is a free speech case. This is a case where this gentleman made a rap video–not a rap video, sorry, a rap song, he was expressing something on his own, at his house, he said something as a fictional character allegedly that may or may not do something to somebody. He never said it to the alleged victim. It was put onto a SoundCloud then it made its way to the school, then we overreacted and made this case. This is unconstitutional, we’re participating in this, and I don’t think that we should be. So I would ask that you take that in consideration as well as the reasons that we should be taking the ankle monitor off.” (The song remains on SoundCloud, attracting some 38 comments since it was posted, the majority of them a chorus of support for Washington, some of it in language rhymed to the song’s lyrics.)
Libby said the monitor serves a purpose by keeping Washington in compliance. “If Mr. Washington were to see the victim and not go away, not walk away as he is supposed to,” the prosecutor said, “then he can simply say, judge, I wasn’t there, and we’d have a he-said-she-said argument, whereas with the electronic monitor, we know exactly, we can look exactly where he was at. So I believe it does serve a purpose.” She said he was released without having to post a bond. “I understand there are some First Amendment concerns. But at this point an information has not been filed, our office is looking into it. My understanding from my email from Ms. Telfer, the case is going to be filed. We’re just not sure at this point whether it’s going to be a misdemeanor or a felony, and that decision will be soon.”
If the monitor were to be removed, she said, the state would ask for a bond instead of a GPS. But saying that made the defense’s point: the state was willing to trade the GPS for a monetary bond, which would not keep track of Washington’s whereabouts.
Washington appears to have doubled down on the song even as he seemed to be apologizing for it, in a display that couldn’t possibly help his case.
Washington appears in a video produced by YouTuber Theo Roach and uploaded on Jan. 30. “I just feel like they make me seem like I’m an enemy or like I’m a target,” Washington wearing a necklace hooked to a miniature silver gun, says, “and like I took it the wrong way, I could have handled it different, but like, I didn’t understand. I made a mistake, that shouldn’t have even got like that. I mean, to coach  I really apologize to you or whatever, if I made you feel offended or threatened you, but I mean, I love music. I mean, SSY is a music group, it’s something that my brother Dewan, he came up with it, he’s been a serious artist of this music stuff and he advised me to get into it.”
The video then features him performing the song again, threats included, as he fingers the necklace with the gun.
Just love when that 1st amendment kicks in!
If this child is being made to wear a gps so they can monitor him “incase” he runs into the guy, then why wasn’t my ex made to wear one when he was going to court on charges of aggravated stalking after violating a no contact order? This is ridiculous
Sorry but threatening to kill an administrator is not part of the 1st amendment so your attorney just lied to the jury and judge. Free Speech doesn’t mean threatening to kill people or anything of that nature, joke or not. This is also why so many kids are arrested ‘joking’ about shooting up schools, he deserved what his sentence is and that payment daily, his issue for being stupid.
If this defense works then the lesson to be learned here is this people.If you are going to commit the crime of Assault(threatening), do it in the form of song. If someone parks on your lawn simply make up a catchy tune like “Bii Blouga imma gonna put a cap in yo a$$ if you don’t get off my grass”. Problem solved! Thanks public defender.
Concerned Citizen says
Your right to free speech is certainly protected by the 1st Amendment.
It comes with responsability and consequences. You don’t go around claiming to hurt people. And you don’t yell fire or bomb in public freely in public. All are criminal acts. And most of these so called rap stars and other singers should be held accountable. Likewise Joe Mullins should be held accountable as well for his comments.
Stop giving free passes. And start holding people accountable for their actions.
I have listened to quite a bit of the so called “art” of rap. Full of violence, misogynistic threats, homophobia, and blatant use of the n word, all while sexualizing females. All the things males are being told not to do. And Michael Jackson, the greatest pedophiles of all time is still worshipped and his music idolized, yep, talk is cheap. And for any that say the n word they use in rap is different cause they don’t pronounce the r on the end, many American accents do not pronounce the r on the ends of words, if it quacks like a duck, it is certainly not a horse.
free this young man.
Trailer Bob says
Don’t say stupid things and don’t threaten people with death. Act like an adult and you life may just improve and maybe you won’t spend most of your life behind bars…son…Trust me.
Michael Cocchiola says
I’m really conflicted on this one. I don’t believe for a moment this young man intends to physically harm the dean although I do understand the dean’s concerns. I do think the young man acted out inappropriately, perhaps from anger and frustration at anything or everything in his life. There’s a lot of that going around.
What conflicts with me the most is the vile and threatening language that’s allowed on right-wing media every day. If that’s protected under the 1st amendment, then so are the rap song lyrics.
Counseling is a better solution here than expulsion and perhaps a criminal complaint.
You summed this whole case up my guy with that comment..
Suburban White Guy says
All I can say is WOW. American civil liberties are CLEARLY under attack. Forcing an individual into pre-trial services and to wear an ankle monitor for artistically expressing himself in a song is an atrocious violation of the FIRST AMENDMENT. Case closed.
If the teacher is genuinely concerned for his safety, perhaps he should read up on the SECOND AMENDMENT.
Know your rights! Will be watching this case closely.
And I listened to the song. It’s pretty obvious the dean is upset because he doesn’t get any hoes.
Suburban White Guy says
The Dean needs to drop his own diss track to address the situation.
😂😂😂😂 thats why he made the song in our culture it was pure comedy but they are tryna decide if its a mis/fel?
Suburban White Guy says
He freestyled on the dean for over 6 minutes. 😂
The kid has talent. His flow was on point for the most part. Just needs some fine tuning. I’d be willing to invest in Bii Blouga if he completes high school.
The dean needs to let this young man get his education on.
I dont think it was the dean at all its more of the school resource officer. John landin he has been locking up these kids dads for years now he at the school with there kids making sure they have a record before they have a idea of how serious a record can be …school 2 prison pipe line
Let me get this straight, I can threaten to kill someone in song and that’s protected under the first amendment but if I use the “n” word or call someone a F-g then I can lose my job and be forced to take “sensitivity” training. Sounds about right in todays world
Sitting here in my living room, I asked Alexa to play “Fuck the Police by NWA” , which she promptly did without hesitation. It’s a vile song filled with threats against law enforcement; and as former law enforcement, I don’t like that it’s out there, but I know it’s protected speech. I’m not a fan of this kid, and I’m not sure where this is going, but I have a feeling he’s going to be very rich some day.
Minimum the young Man wannabe is going to realize that in Life there are Consequences and Accountability to the things you say and do period. Grow up get an Education and move on. This was your Choice and well It is what it is. Deal with it. First Amendment does not protect you to Threaten to kill your Dean and his Family under the circumstances IMO GL
The Geode says
Too many people are concerned with this “free speech”, “rap”, and “threatening” when MY concern is a “justice system” that treats people as GUILTY without the benefit of a trial. Had he been tried, convicted, and sentenced – there would be ZERO ISSUE with the monitoring and probation. This is NOT the case
I wonder why nobody has rebelled against this injustice? Why must a presumed INNOCENT man be subjected to probation before having the benefit to be found guilty?
I couldn’t care any less about that terrible (c)rap song…
Rap this says
He should go to jail just for making a Crap song.