JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Police body cam video obtained by First Coast News offers a first look at the disputed April 4 traffic stop of Jacksonville rapper Charles Jones, aka Foolio.
The video shows police pulling Jones over for an alleged window tint violation and felony fleeing while driving eastbound on Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway in a heavily tinted Dodge Durango.
According to Foolio's attorney, Lewis Fusco, the rapper didn't flee, "He rolled to a 300-foot stop." The video does not make clear when the officer initiated the stop. It shows Foolio stopped 43 seconds after the video begins, emerging with hands out.
The footage shows a deputy grabbing Foolio by his hoodie and slamming his head against the side of a car, while yelling at him to stop resisting.
Foolio has been a key figure in a bloody rivalry between two Jacksonville gangs. He's affiliated with the gang known as KTA, which is bitter foes with ATK, the express affiliate of another Jacksonville rapper, Yungeen Ace.
In court last week, Foolio's lawyer Lewis Fusco said the body cam showed Assistant State Attorney Leah Owens arriving on the scene of the traffic stop, improperly "searching" Foolio's car, and advising officers to make an arrest.
The rapper was later taken in for questioning about a murder involving a close friend of his.
The body cam footage does show Owens on the scene of the traffic stop, "searching" Foolio's car, and advising officers to make the arrest. At last week's hearing, Owens defended being there.
"Like a homicide scene, every single homicide case I have, I was present at the scene," Owens said, adding, "I did not search anything. I did not put gloves on, did not touch any item in that vehicle. I just looked inside the vehicle."
The footage doesn't contradict her claim, though it shows Owens looking around and into the vehicle with all of its doors open.
Fusco said the video proves Owens wasn't initially investigating a crime scene, but was instead "on the scene of a civil traffic stop ... for two-and-a-half hours." He said that fact was underscored by the fact that the team "investigated this for four hours before an arrest took place."
Fusco issued a subpoena to depose Owens about the incident. In a motion to quash the subpoena, Owens wrote, "Similar to responding to the scene of a traffic homicide, an officer-involved shooting, or a similar crime scene, as the lead prosecutor, the undersigned Assistant State Attorney looked at the scene of the crime, including looking inside the vehicle involved in the traffic stop, without touching any items inside the vehicle. It is incorrect of defense counsel to state the undersigned ASA participated in the search of the vehicle."
Owens also said she didn't participate in the interview of Foolio and that "it would be 'unduly burdensome'" to depose a prosecutor "on the ground that they have acted in an investigatory as opposed to prosecutorial capacity."
But Fusco said Owens conferred with officers for hours, discussing their "investigation." He was ultimately taken to the State Attorney's Office and questioned about what he referred to as Foolio's "best friend's murder."
"The officers clearly stated and told Mr. Jones for two-and-a-half hours that 'it was a routine traffic stop. We’re going to get you a ride home,' and then tell him they’re taking him to the State Attorney’s Office to question him about one of his best friend’s murders, and he’s still not under arrest," Fusco said.
The video shows officers tell Foolio, "You're going to jail."
"For what?" Foolio responds.
The response of the officer was not clear.
Despite one of the three occupants being arrested, Fusco said, all the occupants' cell phones were seized at Owen's instruction.
"Clearly, she’s relevant to the case," Fusco said.
"It’s my belief from watching the video that, had Ms. Owens not arrived on scene, I don’t know if these officers would have made an arrest," Fusco said. "They did not place him under arrest until that decision seemed to be made by Ms. Owens."
During a hearing in Duval County on July 6, Foolio's lawyer Lewis Fusco disputed police accounts that the rapper attempted to elude police, insisting he just "rolled 300 feet to a stop."
Circuit Judge Mark Borello gave Fusco two weeks to come up with case law supporting his position that he may depose Owens.
He plans to rule on the matter Aug. 1.
According to State Attorney’s Office spokesman David Chapman:
“For certain crimes such as homicides or arrests involving individuals associated with violent crime in our community, it is routine practice for prosecutors to respond to crime scenes and assist law enforcement investigations. This assistance may include interviewing witnesses, collection of evidence, and processing crime scenes.
The prosecutor in this case is a highly regarded attorney whose conduct was well within the bounds of her role legally, professionally, and ethically.”