MIAMI, JUNE 10 -- Following through on their earlier threat, sheriff's deputies early today arrested two members of the rap group 2 Live Crew on obscenity charges after the band performed its adults-only show at a crowded Hollywood, Fla., nightclub.
In making the arrests, local authorities were taking an action rarely taken in this country. Since a 1973 ruling by the Supreme Court, obscenity cases involving live performances have been restricted primarily to indecent exposure. Today's charges relate entirely to the verbal content of the show.
Band leader Luther Campbell and band member Chris Wongwon were taken into custody by Broward County sheriff's deputies as the pair was leaving the club by car about an hour after the Saturday night show ended. Warrants for the two other band members will be issued Monday, the sheriff's office said.
The arrest serves to raise further the profile of the hot-selling group, whose hit record "As Nasty as They Wanna Be" was declared to be obscene last week by a federal district judge in Fort Lauderdale. The group joins a small number of performers who have been arrested for performing obscene shows.
"Now they're standing shoulder to shoulder with Lenny Bruce," said Bruce Rogow, the band's lawyer, referring to the comedian who was arrested numerous times on obscenity charges before his death in 1966. "We're not talking about sexual conduct here. We're talking about pure words."
Campbell was unavailable for comment today because immediately after he and Wongwon posted $100 bail, the group caught an early-morning flight to Phoenix for a concert there tonight. The group was scheduled to fly back to Miami on Monday.
Throughout the spring, the Miami-based group has been under siege. The lyrics of "As Nasty as They Wanna Be" graphically describe sexual acts and celebrate male lust and violence toward submissive women, and a number of national parents' groups have advocated the banning of the album, which has sold 1.7 million copies.
In South Florida, Jack Thompson, a Coral Gables lawyer, initiated the campaign to ban the album when he sent the lyrics to Gov. Bob Martinez. Martinez, who is running for reelection, publicly denounced the group and asked the state attorney's office to prosecute under racketeering laws but fell silent after the state attorney, Peter Antonacci, refused.
Then Broward County Sheriff Nick Navarro went into civil court and obtained a ruling that the record was "probably obscene." Armed with that, Navarro's deputies visited Fort Lauderdale record shop owners and warned them they should pull the album from their shelves.
The band sued Navarro in federal court. Although U.S. District Judge Jose Gonzalez found that the sheriff's deputies had acted improperly by threatening record store owners with arrest, he surprised 2 Live Crew and its attorneys by finding the lyrics obscene.
The 1973 Supreme Court decision established a three-way test for obscenity standards. The ruling said that before any material could be banned, the average person applying community standards must find that the work appeals to prurient interests, is patently offensive and lacks any serious artistic, political or scientific value. In making his ruling, Gonzalez was defining the local standards of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties under Florida's anti-obscenity law.
Navarro waited only two days before acting on the ruling. On Friday Charles Freeman, owner of E.C. Records, was arrested and charged with selling obscene materials, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of $1,000 and/or a year in jail -- the same penalty the band members arrested this morning face if they are convicted.
Rogow, a law professor at Nova University in Fort Lauderdale, said he heard about the arrest when Campbell telephoned him from the Broward County jail. Campbell and Wongwon had left the club and were driving along Hollywood Boulevard when several sheriff's deputies stopped the car. A sheriff's office spokesman said the arrest was made after the show to avoid any problems with the fans.
"I was asleep when the phone rang about 4 o'clock in the morning," Rogow said. "I turned to my wife and said, 'Luther's been arrested.' We knew there was a chance he would be arrested, but quite honestly, we thought the sheriff would be more restrained in his response."
But Campbell, by now a media darling in the Miami area, almost dared authorities to arrest his group in televised interviews that aired shortly before two performances in the Miami area this weekend. At the Club Nu, in Miami Beach, police videotaped 2 Live Crew's Friday night performance.
About 30 police officers were on hand for Saturday's performance at Club Future in Hollywood, including members of Navarro's gang unit and the Hollywood police department tactical squad.
The band played an early "clean" show for a younger audience and a late show for adults only that featured songs from the controversial album.
At the late show, several women from the audience were invited to dance onstage. Doug Gorgone, 25, a record store manager, said one of the most popular features of the late show was a song in which the rappers shout an obscenity about fraternity houses. In Saturday's performance, the obscenities were directed at Navarro and Martinez.
"The crowd loved it," Gorgone said.
Rogow, who is appealing the federal court ruling, said he thinks a criminal obscenity case will be tougher to prove in court than was the civil one, which required Navarro's lawyers to meet a less burdensome test of evidence.
"Doesn't anybody realize that this whole process sells more of the product that they'd like to oust from the community?" Rogow said. "Before this, I think the band had sold as many copies as it was going to sell. But now they're going to sell another million around the world. The demand from Europe and South America has just been amazing."
Special correspondent Cindy Ycaza and staff researcher Mike Slevin contributed to this report.