Rapper’s ‘Kill Me A Cop’ lyrics land him in prison

Saturday, August 15, 2009

LAKELAND, Fla. — A Lakeland rapper is singing his way to prison.

Authorities say 20-year-old Antavio Johnson raps about killing two Lakeland police officers and refers to a Polk County sheriff’s deputy and police dog killed in the line of duty. The song is called “Kill Me A Cop.”

Johnson — whose stage name is T.O. — pleaded no contest to two counts of corruption by threat of a public servant and was sentenced on July 24 to two years in prison.

Authorities say that while being held at the Polk County Jail for violating probation on a cocaine possession charge, Johnson told a detective he wrote and recorded the song because he felt harassed by the police officers.

First Amendment advocates say the case raises free-speech concerns.

“We don’t punish for bad thoughts in America,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel. “Our Constitution forces us to make a distinction between ugly and hostile thoughts and words, and credible threats of violence.”

The ACLU is not currently involved Johnson’s case, Simon told the newspaper, but the group is keeping an eye on it.

Orlando attorney Lawrence Walters told The Ledger of Lakeland that he believed Johnson’s “lyrics were protected by the First Amendment.”

Attorney Joe Registrato agreed, telling Tampa Fox affiliate WTVT that Johnson “wrote a song, the song is an expression, the First Amendment protects it.”

Neither Walters nor Registrato is involved in the case.