A mall security guard would have asked for a photo with Justin Bieber if the singer had strolled in, but Boosie Badazz says in a recent court filing that he instead got pepper sprayed and run out of Dillard’s department store because he is a black rapper.
The Baton Rouge artist made the observation during sworn pretrial testimony in a federal lawsuit he filed against Dillards, the city of Biloxi, and Edgewater Mall management and its security company over what turned into a melee on April 9, 2017, the last day of huge beach weekend known as Black Spring Break.
Sworn testimony in the case — from Boosie and members of his group, Dillard’s employees, the security guard in question and police officers — indicate the security guard, Glen Kerley, released enough pepper spray in Dillards to wet merchandise and the aisles, scent the air, and affect employees and at least two customers.
Several employees, including one woman with asthma, sought medical treatment afterward.
More than one onlooker concluded that Kerley overreacted. A woman then working there, Tammy Cotton, testified that he had a reputation for following African-American customers in the store and being “a little more aggressive” toward them.
A crowd had built up around Boosie and his entourage in the mall and followed them into Dillards, where Kerley unleashed pepper spray three times on Boosie and his group in the perfume and Polo departments.
Cotton said she agreed with a second co-worker who “thought the entire episode was unnecessary an(d) unprovoked, which could have resulted in a riot to due to the amount of people in the mall,” as one of Boosie’s attorneys, Eduardo Flechas of Jackson, put it in questioning Cotton.
Cotton, who no longer works at Dillard’s, said: “I don’t feel, from what I saw, as though there was any threat to either the persons on property or the business. The only thing that I saw was the massive crowd, who was upset about what was happening in that Polo section.·
“And I feel, had that situation been handled differently, it would not have escalated to what it did with the mass hysteria of the crowd.”
For his part, Kerley testified that he first sprayed a man with Boosie, who turned out to be assistant and sometimes security guard Larry Anderson, because Anderson clenched his fists after being asked to leave. Kerley, a retired Biloxi police officer in his 50s, said he didn’t want a fight breaking out in the store. They happened to be standing in the perfume department.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” he said. “I know what was coming. I’m trying to get everybody out because you’ve got people in the store; you got, at that time there by the·perfume, you’ve got a bunch of glass up in there. That did not need to happen in the store.”
‘It’s getting too crazy’
As is his habit, Boosie decided to shop the day after his spring break concert at the Coast Coliseum. He said a group of 19 to 20 people followed him to the mall, including his daughter, cousins and others whom he knew only vaguely.
Foot Locker shut down so they could shop, testimony shows. Fans spotted Boosie, wearing pink, and began congregating outside. By the time he left the store, 20 or more people had gathered, he said.
“I don’t think I went in no other stores,” he said, “because when I saw the people . . . I said, “I’m fixing to get out this mall because it’s getting too crazy, because it’s getting too packed.”
Boosie planned to exit the mall through Dillard’s — after he picked up a Polo shirt.
In a sworn statement, Biloxi patrol officer Matt Howard said he received a call to assist with an “unruly crowd” at the mall. He said that he followed the crowd into Dillard’s and asked them to leave because they were causing a disturbance.
Once they had been told to leave, Kerley said the group was trespassing. He, too, urged them to leave.
Howard said that Kerley deployed his pepper spray when a confrontation escalated between him and the group. Both Boosie and Anderson say that Kerley said, “Get out of my mall, boy,” before spraying them.
Boosie said he hears blacks called “boy” in Mississippi and Alabama. Sometimes, he said, it happens in Louisiana.
“I’ve been in every state in the world, and those are the only two, three states where you will hear ‘boy’ when you have an argument with somebody,” he said. “That’s old slave mentality.”
Boosie said he should have been protected, not insulted.
“You can’t blame the celebrity for being a celebrity,” he said. “And you can’t — you can’t pick him out, you know . . .
“If I was Justin Bieber, I wouldn’t have got sprayed in there. If I was another actor, I wouldn’t have got sprayed·in that mall. He would have asked me to take a picture with me, if I was — if I was white, if I was a white celebrity.”
Former Dillard’s associate Cotton described what she witnessed: “Like I said, Boosie was trying to leave. and I saw him address, try to address Kerley, as though he was asking, ‘Why are you doing this? You know, why — or why are you spraying me?’
“And he got sprayed again and that’s when he tried to leave the store.”
“There was not much response.· From what I saw and remember, all (Kerley) was doing was spraying.”
‘Targeted in Mississippi’
Officer Howard said he acted only after one individual lunged at Kerley as the group was leaving.
Outside the mall, a crowd attacked Kerley and Howard, the security guard and police officer said. Howard said he jumped on top of Kerley, who was being beaten and kicked in the face and on his upper body.
Kerley said he was kicked by Boosie. Kerley knew it was Boosie, he said, because he saw his pink pant leg.
Overwhelmed by pepper spray, Boosie said he was not involved in the fight. He said he went straight to the white limousine-style van that had delivered him and some of the group to the mall.
Three adult males, none of them from Mississippi, and two juveniles were arrested over the fight outside, but a grand jury did not find enough evidence to indict them, court records show.
One charge of disorderly conduct and one charge of simple assault against Boosie are scheduled to be dismissed in late January unless he breaks local, state or federal laws.
Boosie said he will continue to let fans know how he was treated in Mississippi. His lawsuit claims Dillard’s, mall management and security, and the city of Biloxi were grossly negligent, and failed to properly train security and provide a safe place to shop.
“Now, I was done wrong, man, and I’m not going to be quiet about it,” said Boosie, who has a large following on social media, particularly Instagram, where he has posted about what happened in Biloxi. Crowd videos from Dillard’s that show Boosie being pepper sprayed were posted afterward on Facebook and are available on YouTube.
Boosie said he believes he is entitled to $30 million to $40 million in damages because of the repercussions he has suffered. He said he is unable to perform in Mississippi. He released a new blues album in late November called “Boosie Blues Cafe.”
Just a week before he sat down for his pretrial testimony in October, he said, the venue for a concert in McComb was changed on him at the last minute and law enforcement set up road blocks.
“I’m getting targeted in Mississippi,” he said. “Like, these people are on my ass. Like, these people think I’ve done something in Mississippi, and I didn’t, but go in a mall.”
Where the lawsuits stand
Joining Boosie in the lawsuit are Larry Anderson and his cousin, Tyeon Givens. In his sworn testimony, Anderson said that Kerley “could have handled it better.
“Like, he could have caused a riot his self. You know what I’m saying?”
Givens was seven months pregnant when she was pepper sprayed and fell to the ground. Her twin daughters were born prematurely and have medical problems, court records show.
Woodhall Stopford, a doctor at Duke University Medical Center who is a potential witness for Givens, concluded after reviewing her medical records: “Acute exposure of pregnant women to pepper spray can result in falls with associated increased risk of preterm labor and adverse neonatal outcomes.”
The city of Biloxi, along with mall management and security, deny any wrongdoing.
Kerley, who no longer works at Dillard’s, has filed his own lawsuit against Boosie and Larry Anderson. Kerley accuses them of gross negligence, conspiring to assault him and assault. In addition to being punched and kicked, he said, he was dragged across the pavement and had to be treated for his injuries at a hospital.
A settlement conference is scheduled January 17 in the lawsuit Boosie filed, which would go to trial first if the case does not settle. Trial is tentatively set for April before U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden.
The lawsuit Kerley filed is schedule for trial in September before U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr.
Meanwhile, attorneys for all sides are collecting and filing evidence. One of the Biloxi officers who responded to the mall said he interviewed two witnesses in the store, both male shoppers who happened to be black.
They said that they saw Boosie enter Dillard’s, were shopping near him and were sprayed with pepper spray for no reason.
“Neither one of those witnesses wanted to be included in this report, but they said they wanted to give their statements (on my body-worn video camera) to explain what had happened inside the store,” officer John Lewis wrote. “They felt as though it was all unnecessary and they were caught up in the middle of a bad situation.”