Joe Tacopina has entered a new judicial realm in the span of two-and-a-half-years since representing Meek Mill. The Philadelphia native was sentenced to two to four years in prison on Nov. 6, 2017, for reportedly violating his 10-year parole. The cases (an alleged altercation in a St. Louis airport and an arrest in New York City for reckless endangerment) were both dismissed by the district attorney, but still managed to bring Mill back in front of Judge Genece E. Brinkley. The judge adds that Mill reportedly failed a drug test and didn’t adhere to the proper protocol for approval of travel.
When he appeared at the Criminal Justice Center in his hometown (Nov. 6), Brinkley decided to send the “Dreams and Nightmares” rapper to prison despite the prosecutor and his parole officer’s recommendation of no jail time. Following this mandate, various media reports revealed past and previous encounters between the judge and the 30-year-old rapper. Per the request of Meek’s legal counsel, the FBI reportedly launched an investigation into Brinkley’s actions.
While he can’t comment on the FBI’s probe, Tacopina feels this situation “speaks volumes” to the judge’s handling of Meek’s case.
VIBE: In an interview with the New York Post in August, you said you’ve never seen a case like Meek Mill’s, specifically following his arrest in New York City for alleged reckless endangerment. What makes Meek’s case stand apart from the other cases you’ve taken on in the past?
Joe Tacopina: I’ve never seen someone get arrested for popping a wheelie on the street in the middle of a rap video with no one else around, [where] no one else could be endangered. There were several other people in the video, too, popping wheelies, but the only person the police arrested was Meek, not anyone else. They singled him out, but the funny part is there were police that day watching. There’s a cop van in one of the videos. No one arrested Meek Mill that day for reckless endangerment. It was the next day when someone from Police Plaza decided this was something where they could make an example out of a very famous, well-known black rapper. They sent 22 cop cars to a charity event he was doing for kids at a community basketball tournament. They arrested him in front of all of these kids with a squadron of 22 police cars as if he were John Dillinger, John Gotti, someone that was a danger to the community. It was ridiculous. They arrested him for something that no one ever gets arrested for. It was just an outrageous case and it was dismissed. They started out trying to charge him with a felony. That was first dropped and then the D.A. dismissed the case eventually. That speaks volumes, absolute volumes.
Do you think Judge Brinkley is trying to make an example out of Meek given this sentencing?
I don’t know about making an example. You’ve been reading what I’m saying, what she did was inappropriate. She didn’t treat him like the average defendant, but it’s something that was clearly done against the recommendations of both the probation officer and the district attorney. Two law experts that would normally ask for jail time if they feel like there’s been a violation of the law that requires jail time. Here they call them technical violations. She misstated facts on the record. She forgot that she got an email approval, that she approved requested travel by email. She said he went somewhere where she didn’t approve which wasn’t true at all. Then you couple that with a personal request of him singing that song [Boyz II Men “On Bended Knee”] and him changing managers to someone that she knew. It’s all inappropriate coming from a judge. Then when she acts on his refusals, because he refused her request, she acted on it by sentencing him to something that was outrageous and that wasn’t even called for by probation and the D.A. She attacked the probation officer for not requesting jail time which was ridiculous.
“You have public outrage because people see a young, successful individual who came from a very difficult upbringing then turned his life around…” ~ Joe Tacopina
A verbal attack?
Yes, she was on the record talking about why that recommendation was ridiculous and, ‘You don’t know enough about the case’ and all this stuff, attacking anyone who didn’t give her coverage to act inappropriately.
Does Meek Mill take ownership of the things he’s been accused of?
Meek Mill has taken ownership of all the things he’s done all along. He doesn’t take ownership of the two cases that were dismissed. The district attorney dismissed them, so he didn’t do anything wrong in those cases. He’s taken ownership of the things he’s done, of course, he has. He said it back then to the judge. But nobody is on probation for 10 years, nobody. She keeps extending it. It was supposed to be over in 2013. She’s extending it for technical violations because she wants to have her hand over him. She has some weird obsession with this guy. Maybe it’s because they grew up in the same neighborhood in Philly. He’s become one of the biggest stars coming from Philadelphia in decades, and maybe she just wants to have her thumb over him. Maybe she’s upset that he didn’t make the request that she wanted.
She’s made these inappropriate requests that he’s refused. She’s also made statements to other people on the street that have come back to us about the case which is inappropriate for a judge to do. And then to show up at his community service when he was working at a homeless shelter, to show up there and watch him do community service? No judge has ever shown up at a community service event for a person on probation, ever, and sat there and watched someone. But she did in this case.
“I’m confident that this perversion of justice is going to be rectified.” ~ Joe Tacopina
Do you think the city of Philadelphia has a personal vendetta against him as well because he’s a rapper? One of our editors pointed out how in the 80s, artists from Schoolly D and Cool C to more recent rappers like Beanie Siegel and Gillie Da Kid have had run-ins with the law. Does this play a factor in the extension of his parole, given Philadelphia’s relationship with rappers?
I really don’t know, I don’t know what’s in her mind. I just know what her actions are, which were inappropriate from a judicial standpoint. Then based on those actions, she did something that was even more inappropriate and went against the recommendations of a probation officer and a district attorney. I don’t know about the entire history of the Philadelphia rap world or what that means or how that plays a role. I can’t speak to that.
In Nicki Minaj’s 2015 court testimony, it sounds like Meek’s parole officer and the judge fed him different restrictions on what he can do, where he can travel to, and it landed him back inside the courthouse. Do you think the criminal justice system’s parole regulations set an individual up to fall into a cycle?
Yeah, again, he’s been on parole for 10 years. Everything he does or wants to do is monitored and has to be approved. Nobody has been on probation for 10 years. If he wants to leave Pennsylvania, she has to approve it. For 10 years. He’s a working artist, of course he has to leave all the time. He’s being singled out because this doesn’t happen to the normal defendant, that’s what you have to understand. If he were being treated like the normal defendant, then we can’t really say anything. Whether we like the judge’s ruling or we don’t like it, you can’t say anything. But he wasn’t being treated like the normal defendant. He was being treated like someone who she was selecting out to treat a certain way. Then you have to say, ‘Okay, she made these inappropriate requests that he said no to. Does that play a hand in it?’ Who knows, but obviously we think it does.
With the petition that has garnered a wave of signatures and even caught the attention of Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Wolf, how effective will this be for Meek’s case?
I hope very effective. You have public outrage, but you don’t have public outrage because people like his music. You have public outrage because people see a young, successful individual who came from a very difficult upbringing [who] then turned his life around, became successful, has done something that was very impressive from a professional standpoint, gives back to the community all the time, and they see him being treated in a way that’s disgustingly unfair. Again, district attorney, probation officer, the two experts in this field both said no jail time and the judge said, ‘Yeah, well I’m giving him jail time anyway.’ People are outraged because of what happened, not because he’s a celebrity.
Speak on Pennsylvania’s probation laws. How tough are they on individuals who fall into situations like Meek Mill?
It’s not tougher than any other state. It’s not about the laws, we’re not saying the laws are wrong. It’s this judge’s conduct.
What’s the likelihood that his appeal will be granted and he’ll be released?
I think it’s very likely. It’s an outrage here because it’s a blatant example of how power from a judicial standpoint can be abused and I think it’s very clear that he was treated unfairly and against all realms of what justice is supposed to be. I’m confident that this perversion of justice is going to be rectified. We’re appealing both to her, to the Appellate Courts and to the political community at-large and to the powers that be in the state government of Pennsylvania.