An attorney for the family of George Floyd says the family feels “betrayed” by Kanye West’s false claim that the 46-year-old’s death was from fentanyl and not a police officer kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Attorney Lee Merritt confirms to Rolling Stone that the Floyd family is considering pursuing a legal case against the rapper and says that he is also looking into whether ultra-right-wing pundit Candace Owens could be held liable as well, since West had plucked the debunked claim from her new Daily Wire-produced “documentary” The Greatest Lie Ever Sold.
And while Merritt acknowledges there are no legal grounds to pursue a defamation claim on behalf of a deceased person, he says the near $1 billion judgment that Sandy Hook parents won against InfoWars host Alex Jones for spreading conspiracy theories about the 2012 shooting presents a possible pathway for legal recourse.
“I anticipate by the end of the week, we’ll at least have an idea of what claims are viable and what parties might be involved,” Merritt says. “At that time, the decision will be made whether or not to [pursue] trial litigation.”
West has been creating one PR disaster after another following his YZY fashion show earlier this month in Paris, where he paraded models in White Lives Matter T-shirts down his runway. He then proclaimed on Instagram that Black Lives Matter was “over” and began making a number of anti-Semitic statements — including that he was going to go “death con 3 on Jewish people” — which led to his Instagram and Twitter accounts being restricted.
Over the weekend, he appeared on Revolt TV’s Drink Champs and falsely said Floyd’s death was caused by fentanyl, backing up the claim by citing Owens’ documentary that he saw last week.
“I watched the George Floyd documentary that Candace Owens put out,” he told hosts N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN. “One of the things that his two roommates said was they want a tall guy like me, and the day that he died, he said a prayer for eight minutes. They hit him with the fentanyl. If you look, the guy’s knee wasn’t even on his neck like that.”
Merritt says it was the mother of Ahmaud Arbery who had first alerted him to West’s statements about Floyd. Wanda Cooper-Jones had previously expressed to Rolling Stone her “extreme disappointment” over West’s White Lives Matter stunt, especially since it “flies directly in the face” of West privately donating funds to her family following her son’s killing. She described it as “support[ing] and legitimiz[ing] extremist behavior” that echoed the “behavior that took the life of her son.”
West also claimed to make significant donations to Floyd’s family and established a college fund for his young daughter Gianna. Now to see him stand with Owens, the Floyd family feels “absolutely betrayed by his comments,” Merritt adds.
“For someone who has held himself out as an ally and supporter for the family, to now see him reversing course and ratifying [Owens’] comments and her extreme views is really disappointing,” he says. “That documentary was offered by a person who we know is on the far right with an agenda. Now you essentially see Kanye West advocating for Derek Chauvin and other conspiracists.”
West’s comments could have graver implications, Merritt adds, referencing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that is being championed by his family and currently before Congress. The bill seeks to ensure better policing practices and establish a federal database for police misconduct complaints.
“When someone with a platform like Kanye or even Candace Owens [start] making statements that police brutality wasn’t the cause of death, but instead it was drugs or some other conspiracy, it certainly undermines their efforts to bring about reform,” he says. “It sets us all back.”
Roger Floyd, Floyd’s uncle who is establishing a memorial foundation in his nephew’s honor in North Carolina, added in a statement to Rolling Stone that while West is free “to exercise his first amendment right regardless how baseless and without merit” his claims may be, his family knows the truth.
“This case went to trial and resulted in a guilty verdict,” he says. “Our family is satisfied with that outcome. ‘Justice Was Served.’”