ATLANTA — A case against three young men whose hip-hop videos helped popularize the dance move known as "dabbing" came to a sudden climax in a Statesboro courtroom Dec. 4th, when the members of Migos pleaded guilty to dramatically reduced charges.
Kiari Cephus, better known by the stage name Offset, the only member of Migos still held without bond at that point, was released from custody. Defense attorney Drew Findling said Offset had been an inmate in the Bulloch County jail almost eight months.
Offset spoke at length about his time in jail in an exclusive interview with Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne.
“It was like a slap in the face and I didn’t understand where it came from or why I had to do it. (It was) something I had to go through with me and God, though,” he said. “I had to sit down to see my opportunity so I can take advantage of it to the most that I can.”
Findling and Assistant District Attorney Barclay Black agree on this much about the background of the case: Migos played a concert at Georgia Southern University in April. During the show, police searched two vehicles that had carried the band and 13 in its entourage. The search turned up less than an ounce of marijuana, a bottle of “lean,” a street concoction containing codeine, and several guns. Police arrested all 16 people.
But the two lawyers also disagreed on much.
Offset faced nine counts: violation of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act, possession of a firearm during commission of a felony, carrying weapons within certain school areas, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, possession of a firearm by convicted felon, two counts of violation of the street gang terrorism and prevention act, riot in a penal institution and battery.
But, as a hearing in the case got underway on Dec. 4th, Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge John R. Turner seemed to send a clear message to both sides that he believed the case should be resolved without a trial. He gave the two sides time to meet before reconvening.
Black said Offset’s guilty plea to riot in penal institution—over an incident in which he kicked a fellow inmate in the head—means that all other charges against him in Bulloch County are dropped. Findling said it was an “Alford” plea, meaning that Offset did not admit that he did it, but he acknowledged that there is sufficient evidence in the case to find him guilty.
“If I didn’t take the plea, then it wouldn’t be handled and I would be sitting in jail right now,” Offset told Winne days after the hearing.
Criminal defense investigator Charles Mittelstadt, who was in the courtroom, said the prosecutor’s offer was clear: Everyone had to agree to a plea deal or no one would get a deal, putting additional pressure on Offset. (At last check, plea deals have not been completed for all defendants, though it appears possible that they will be.)
“The exposure to significant prison sentences resulting from overcharging is what led these defendants to plead," said Mittelstadt, whose hip-hop clients include Migos, Gucci Mane, Waka Flocka Flame and T.I.
“It’s really about making sure that people take responsibility for the things that they do," Black said. “We want to make sure that we properly charge, we properly indict, and we properly prosecute a case.”
The judge sentenced Offset to five years’ probation, a $1,000 fine plus surcharges and, the judge added: “You are banished from the Ogeechee circuit. That’s Bulloch, Effingham, Screven and Jenkins counties.”
Migos member Quavious Marshall, better known as Quavo, faced charges of violation of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act, possession of a firearm during commission of a felony, carrying weapons within certain school areas, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, and violation of the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act. But he pleaded nolo contendere—no contest—to the misdemeanor marijuana possession charge. The sentence: 12 months suspended, based on payment of a fine.
Migos member Kirshnick Ball, aka Takeoff, received 12 months' probation after pleading to a misdemeanor pot charge in a way that gives him a chance to ultimately have no conviction on his record. He had faced charges of violation of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act, possession of a firearm during commission of a felony, carrying weapons within certain school areas and possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.