This article was originally published on The Legal Intelligencer by Ben Seal on May 6, 2016
A man who posted to YouTube a rap video called “Fuck the Police” that included the names of two police officers intentionally communicated a threat and intimidated witnesses in a pending criminal case, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has held.
Despite not sending the video directly to any of the individuals mentioned in the song, Rashee Beasley successfully communicated his threat by linking to the video on his Facebook page, and in the process interfered with the administration of the justice system by convincing the police to withhold testimony, a unanimous three-judge panel ruled in Commonwealth v. Beasley.
“We need not ponder whether deciding to broadcast songs or linking YouTube videos to one’s Facebook page generally indicates intent to communicate, because appellant stated his intent” by rapping that he wanted to be heard, Senior Judge Patricia H. Jenkins wrote in the April 28 opinion. “He wanted officers [Daniel] Zeltner and [Michael] Kosko to hear his message, and they did. He successfully and intentionally communicated his threat.”
Following a 2012 incident in which Beasley was charged with fleeing law enforcement, police in Allegheny County discovered the rap video after searching the Facebook page of Beaz Mooga, whom they believed to be Beasley, Jenkins wrote. The video showed pictures of Beasley and Jamal Knox, who was with Beasley at the time of the 2012 incident, and referred to Zeltner and Kosko. Kosko was involved in the 2012 incident and Zeltner was involved in an earlier incident with Beasley, the opinion said.
The rap included the line, “‘I know exactly who workin, and I’m gonna kill him wit a glock,'” the opinion said, and contained a reference to a 2009 incident in which a man opened fire on Pittsburgh police officers, killing three and injuring others.
When the video was discovered, Beasley was charged with two counts each of intimidation of a witness, retaliation against a witness and terroristic threats, and one count of criminal conspiracy. He was found guilty in 2013 of the intimidation and threat counts, along with one count each of conspiracy and hindering apprehension. He was acquitted of the retaliation charges, the opinion said. He was sentenced to 18 to 48 months’ incarceration, plus probation.
On appeal, Beasley challenged the sufficiency of the evidence, claiming that the state failed to show that he communicated the video to the officers. He argued that posting the video on YouTube and linking it to a Facebook page did not constitute the requisite communication because it was not direct, Jenkins said. He also contended that the video was not posted with intent to terrorize the police officers.
Terroristic threats, however, need not be communicated directly, Jenkins said, citing the Superior Court’s 1995 ruling in Commonwealth v. Kelley. Further, a defendant does not need to carry out the consequence of the threat to communicate a threat, she said, citing the court’s 1994 ruling in Commonwealth v. Cancilla. Jenkins also noted that the Beaz Mooga Facebook page did not completely disguise Beasley because of its proximity to his last name, effectively communicating the threat from him to the officers.
Beasley asserted that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of intimidation of a witness because the state did not show that he posted the video with the intent of getting the police to withhold testimony. But, Jenkins said, the charges pending against him in which the officers were set to testify sufficed.
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