Grand Jury Rejects Indictment of Teen Arrested for Rap Lyrics

Massachusetts student's arrest for alleged 'terroristic threats' raised First Amendment concerns

Cameron D'Ambrosio
Courtesy Center for Rights
Cameron D'Ambrosio
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A grand jury has declined to indict an aspiring Massachusetts rapper whom police had accused of making "terroristic threats," according to the Essex County District Attorney's office. Cameron D'Ambrosio, 18, was arrested in Methuen, Massachussetts on May 2nd after posting a rap verse on his Facebook wall that contained the line, "fuck a boston bombinb [sic] wait til u see the shit I do, I'ma be famous for rapping, and beat every murder charge that comes across me." The high school student has been held in jail since then without bail. "There will be a bail hearing this afternoon, after which point he will probably be released, is my educated guess," says Essex County DA spokesperson Carrie Kimball Monahan.

Prosecutors sought to charge D'Ambrosio with threats to make a bomb or hijack a vehicle, carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Danielle Simpson, a legal assistant to D'Ambrosio's lawyer, says they expect D'Ambrosio to be released on his own recognizance and home by Thursday night. An additional court date is scheduled for June 27th in Lawrence district court, but Kimball Monahan said the DA would not likely bring additional charges.

Before the indictment was rejected, civil liberties advocates said the case raised serious concerns. "This is a travesty of free speech, and a travesty of the First Amendment," says Evan Greer, the campaign manager for Center for Rights, which created an online petition in support of D'Ambrosio. According to Greer, a search of D'Ambrosio's house after his arrest yielded no evidence of bomb-making materials. "We should never allow tragedies to limit rights," says Greer, who believes that authorities over-reacted in the wake of the recent violence in Boston. "It doesn't actually make us safer."

Everything You've Been Told About Radicalization Is Wrong

D'Ambrosio was arrested after his fellow students alerted a school police officer, who then contacted the Methuen police. The police issued a somewhat alarmist statement on their website and Facebook pages with the headline "Methuen High School Student Arrested!!!" Local police chief Joseph Solomon failed to mention that D'Ambrosio is an aspiring rapper when talking with the media – making his Facebook post sound more like a straightforward statement of intent than a provocative lyric.

Matthew Segal, the legal director at the ACLU of Massachusetts – who has worked on similar first amendment cases, though not this one – says it does not appear that D'Ambrosio's Facebook post rose to the level of a "true threat" warranting an investigation, which the grand jury has found as well. Segal notes that D'Ambrosio's words didn't target anybody or anything specifically, which the Methuen police have also acknowledged.

Minneapolis rapper P.O.S., whose lyrics often reference radical politics, says he worried about the potential implications for other envelope-pushing artists if D'Ambrosio had been convicted. "I'd be scared for my friends," he says. "If [D'Ambrosio's lyrics are] something that can get you locked up, I'm probably fucked. Lines on my new record are far more explicit than that." On his fourth solo LP, last fall's We Don't Even Live Here, P.O.S. refers to himself as a "young black terror attack," and artfully raps about breaking into houses, inciting riots and generally waging class war.

Several observers noted that D'Ambrosio's amateur status likely contributed to the decision to arrest him. "If he were successful, he probably wouldn't have been charged," adds the ACLU's Segal. "Whether or not you're a terrorist shouldn't come down to how good of a hip-hop artist you are." In this case, it seems the grand jury agreed.

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