TEMPE, Ariz. – Two men who were asked to rap to get out of a ticket are seeking large amounts of money for what they believe was a violation of their civil rights.
One of the men has filed a claim against the city of Tempe for $50,000 and the other filed a claim for half a million dollars. A claim is the first legal step toward a lawsuit against a government entity.
James Baker and Robert Tarvin, who are black, were shown rapping on a segment of the police-produced cable-TV show "Tempe StreetBeat" after Tempe police Sgt. Chuck Schoville pulled them over for littering in August.
The sergeant, who is white, is shown checking Baker's identification and having Tarvin pick up the litter before asking the two men to do a rap song about littering. The two complied.
Tarvin's claim asks for $50,000 and requests that some of the money be used for "community awareness training" for police.
Tempe City Attorney Andrew Ching declined to comment.
Christopher Berry, Tarvin's lawyer, sent a letter to the city a week ago outlining why his client deserves the money, saying it would help repair damage "to his reputation, to his standing in the community and among his peers, and to his self respect."
Tarvin also wants written apologies from the police department, Schoville and Officer Brandon Banks, the show's producer.
Baker is asking for $500,000.
Howard Schwartz, Baker's lawyer, wrote a claim letter saying Baker had "been portrayed as a clown, which has caused him to become emotionally disturbed, reclusive and embarrassed."
The letter was delivered with an editorial cartoon from The Arizona Republic that compared the "StreetBeat" segment to black-faced minstrel performers in 1906.
When the segment in question aired in November, minority rights groups expressed their outrage. The mayor and police chief apologized for the segment and launched an investigation into the incident.
Investigators concluded that the men told Schoville off-camera they were aspiring rappers. But they still blamed the police and producers of the show for failing to recognize how the situation could be interpreted.