MIAMI, JUNE 8 -- The controversy over the Miami rap group 2 Live Crew moved, inevitably, to the next phase today when a record store owner was arrested for selling the group's album after a federal judge had declared it obscene.
Charles Freeman, owner of E.C. Records in Fort Lauderdale, was charged by the Broward County Sheriff's Office with distributing obscene material, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
Freeman was arrested this morning after he sold a cassette tape of "As Nasty as They Wanna Be" to an undercover detective.
"This is America. I'm not living in Cuba," Freeman said as a deputy directed him toward a wall in the store and patted him down before handcuffing him and taking him to jail.
Coincidentally, the purchase was made just after Freeman received a shipment of 25 copies of the album at his store. The detective took the cassette to Broward County Circuit Judge Mel Grossman, who listened to it and found it in violation of Florida state law prohibiting the sale of obscene materials.
U.S. District Judge Jose A. Gonzalez Jr. ruled Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale that the album, which has sold 1.7 million copies, is obscene. In March, Broward County Sheriff Nick Navarro sought a ruling from the circuit court that the record was obscene. Grossman ruled the album "probably obscene," and the sheriff's office promptly warned Fort Lauderdale record store owners they would be arrested if they sold it.
The band sued Navarro in federal court, and in Wednesday's ruling, Gonzalez found that the sheriff's deputies had acted improperly in warning shop owners to pull the album from their shelves.
But armed with a federal court finding of obscenity, the deputies were able to proceed. Several deputies were dispatched to Freeman's store to make the arrest.
Navarro, who was on hand along with the local media to observe, said he regarded Freeman's selling the album to be "a challenge to the law. We don't accept challenges to the law," he said.
Freeman was released on $100 bond. His arraignment will be set next week, said Al Gordon, a spokesman for the sheriff's office.
Freeman announced a day before his arrest his intention to keep selling the rap album. "I don't plan stopping at all. ... I'm going to jail sooner or later if it comes to it," he told the Fort Lauderdale News & Sun-Sentinel.
Luther Campbell, the head of 2 Live Crew, offered today to finance Freeman's defense or that of anyone else who is arrested for selling "Nasty." In addition, the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union offered to defend Freeman. Robyn Blumner, executive director of the Florida branch, condemned the arrest as "an attack of the thought police."
As he was being escorted outside by deputies, Freeman told reporters, "We don't need nobody to censor us or violate our freedom of speech. What will be next? Next you won't be able to sell 'Alice In Wonderland.' "
The band was scheduled to perform an adults-only concert late tonight at Club Nu in Miami Beach and both an all-ages show and an adults-only performance Saturday at Futera, a Hollywood, Fla., dance club.
"As far as I know, they're going to be doing their regular shows," said band promoter Bob Slade.
Special correspondent Cindy Ycaza contributed to this report.