Seven Ohio cops who raided a rapper known as Afroman’s house last summer are now suing the rapper after Afroman made music videos using footage from the raid. The Adams County Sheriff’s Office police officers allege that the rapper is profiting off unauthorized use of their likenesses, not only in the music videos but also on merchandise created after Afroman’s social media posts and music videos went viral on platforms like TikTok and Instagram.
Cops suing say they’ve been subjected to death threats, ridicule, reputation loss, embarrassment, humiliation, emotional distress, and other alleged harms and will continue to suffer unless the court forces Afroman to destroy all the merchandise and posts bearing their likenesses.
Ars couldn’t immediately reach Afroman, whose real name is Joseph Foreman, for comment, but Vice talked to him in January. Afroman told Vice that after the raid, he suffered, too, losing gigs and feeling powerless. He decided to create music videos for songs called “Lemon Pound Cake,” “Why You Disconnecting My Video Camera,” and “Will You Help Me Repair My Door” to reclaim his good name.
The cops’ warrant shows that officers conducted the raid to seek evidence of “drug possession and trafficking, as well as kidnapping,” The Guardian reported, but no evidence was found, and no charges were issued against Afroman.
Afroman was not present during the raid, and his music videos relied on security camera footage and videos shot by his wife on her phone. The rapper claims that police destroyed his property and seized $400. “I felt powerless yet angry," he told Vice. "These guys can destroy my property and I literally couldn’t do nothing about it.”
He said that releasing the music videos was his only way to process these feelings and that he was shocked when the videos went viral. “The only thing I could do was take to my pen and sing about the injustice,” Afroman told Vice. “And to my surprise, it’s going over well!”
Some of the music videos and social media posts have since garnered millions of views.
Ars could not immediately reach Robert Klingler, the lawyer for the officers suing. The officers are Shawn D. Cooley, Justin Cooley, Michael D. Estep, Shawn D. Grooms, Brian Newland, Lisa Phillips, and Randolph L. Walters, Jr.
Klingler told The Washington Post that Afroman’s home raid was “lawful.”
Adams County Sheriff Kimmy Rogers told Vice last month that while the office didn’t “appreciate” the disrespect from the public after Afroman’s videos became popular, Rogers felt the office could “handle” it.
However, Rogers also said then that “it’s kind of tolling on some of the officers."
Now, it seems that officers have reached their breaking point after months of alleged public ridicule, with each demanding at least $25,000 in damages on five separate counts in their complaint against Afroman. Ohio law bans the use of an individual’s persona—such as Afroman's use of officers' faces in videos and on T-shirts—for commercial purposes without authorization.
“Personas of the plaintiffs were not used by defendants in connection with any news, public affairs, sports broadcast, or political campaign, and their unauthorized use of plaintiffs' personas for commercial purposes was not justified or excused,” their complaint said. It also alleged that Afroman violated officers’ right to privacy and made false statements.
According to the complaint, Afroman appeared in an interview on VLADTV, where he “admits to using images and clips from the search in videos and promotion.” Clips include officers asking for a piece of lemon pound cake and dismantling a security camera to prevent more footage. They’re asking a jury to award damages and require Afroman to stop using their likenesses in his videos and promotional materials. They also want him to delete “dozens of videos and images” posted on “various social media platforms, including Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram.”
Among these social media posts that cops said would offend a reasonable person is an Instagram post showing one officer, Shawn Cooley, who is seen in the raid footage asking for a piece of pound cake. The post shows Afroman wearing a shirt with Shawn Cooley’s face next to Family Guy’s Peter Griffin with a caption that says, "Good Morning Ladies!!! What up Fellas??? Congratulations to Police Officer Poundcake. Thank you for getting me 5.4 MILLION hits on TikTok. I couldn't have done it without you obviously! Congratulations again; you're famous for all the wrong reasons.”
Afroman told Vice that he considered the raid harassment and that his music videos were meant to raise awareness of an alleged pattern of abuse, saying that “sheriff's officers in this county have been doing people dirty for a very long time and getting away with it.”
Klingler told the Post that police think Afroman is “simply using this situation to whip up more publicity and to make more sales for his merchandise at the expense of the reputations of the officers who are only trying to do their jobs.”
Afroman seems unfazed by the lawsuit, telling the Post that he will continue making music and selling merchandise. He also confirmed that he is planning to countersue.
“I feel I have every right to do what I’m doing,” Afroman said. “And I think I took the most smartest, positive route. I didn’t go flip them off in the middle of the street and throw trash cans through their sheriff’s department door. I licked my wounds. I made songs. I did the best I could do.”