Panel rules rapper’s anti-police lyrics do not violate parole agreement

Monday, March 9, 1998

California prison officials dropped the most serious parole violation charge against gangsta rapper C-Bo days after jailing him over anti-police lyrics on his new album.

The rap artist, whose real name is Shawn Thomas, will remain jailed for lesser parole violations, such as traveling outside of Sacramento County without approval, the state Board of Prisons decided Friday. With work-time credits, his release is expected March 18.

As part of his June 1997 parole from Soledad Prison, Thomas, 26, was banned from activities promoting gang lifestyle or anti-law enforcement sentiments. Last week, parole officials concluded his new album, Til' My Casket Drops, violated the agreement with anti-police lyrics like: “So when they try to pull you over, shoot 'em in the face y'all.”

After his arrest last week, Thomas' case quickly became a free-speech issue. Although officials backed down on the most serious charge, they said the same parole restrictions apply, including a new condition Thomas agreed to that ensures he would be incarcerated again if he engages in gang activities.

Thomas served 15 months at Soledad for illegal firearms use, a charge stemming from the accidental killing of a man struck by a bullet Thomas fired into the air during a gang conflict. He could have been ordered back into prison for a year on the parole violation.

“I think maybe the First Amendment has some good news here,” said Thomas' attorney, John Duree. “We're happy about it.”

Duree said the state prison board replaced the prison's original conditions with a more narrowly stated one that prohibits Thomas from participating in gang activities. He said he hoped the prison wouldn't interpret the new condition to include Thomas' lyrics.

“I think everybody anticipates that prison officials won't give this condition the same construction as they did the previous one.”

– First Amendment Center staff and the Associated Press contributed to this report.