Lawyer Claims Busta Rhymes Arrest Is ‘Payback’

Rapper under intense criticism for refusing to cooperate with police investigations into bodyguard's slaying.

Busta Rhymes was arrested and charged with assault and other offenses on Saturday after his performance at the AmsterJam Festival in New York. On Monday (August 21), Rhymes’ attorney, Scott Leemon, told MTV News that the arrest was “payback,” presumably for the rapper’s refusal to cooperate with police investigations into the unsolved February slaying of his bodyguard, Israel Ramirez.

A spokesperson for the New York Police Department told MTV News on Monday that Rhymes (real name: Trevor Tahiem Smith Jr.) was arrested in connection with an incident that occurred in the early hours of August 12. According to a copy of the complaint report from the Manhattan district attorney’s office, Rhymes was charged with five counts: two of assault in the third degree, one of attempted assault in the third degree, one of harassment in the second degree and one of possession of knives or instruments.

The report alleges that Rhymes attacked a man named Roberto Lebron early on the morning of August 12 on 6th Avenue in New York’s Chelsea district, allegedly kicking him repeatedly “about the head and body,” causing multiple injuries, including abrasions, lacerations to Lebron’s lip and wrists, and a concussion. The report claims that Lebron was transported to a local hospital after the incident; it also said a “machete with a blade length of over four inches” was recovered from the passenger seat of Rhymes’ car.

The complaint does not say what precipitated the incident, and district attorney’s office spokesperson Jennifer Kushner said that information is not available as the case is still under investigation. However, several news outlets have reported that Rhymes, 34, and associates assaulted a man (apparently Lebron) who spat at his car.

Leemon said the weapon was a fake machete the rapper uses in his live show (Kushner said she had no details supporting that statement). Although he declined to comment on the specifics of the incident that preceded the alleged assault, Leemon characterized the charges as resembling “a civil lawsuit set-up. Originally it was tagged as a gang-assault felony, but the DA made it a misdemeanor.

“I don’t think he should have been arrested at all. He was put in the system as payback,” Leemon said.

Although Leemon did not specify what the “payback” was for, Rhymes has come under intense criticism for refusing to cooperate with police investigations into the February 5 slaying of his bodyguard, Israel Ramirez, outside a studio where a Rhymes video was being filmed (see “Busta Rhymes Issues Statement On Bodyguard Shooting” ). New York’s Daily News reported Sunday that police used the opportunity to question Rhymes about the Ramirez slaying, citing an unidentified source.

“I don’t know if this is normally something he would even be arrested for,” the News quoted its source as saying. “But his bouncer was killed and he didn’t want to cooperate. This is our way of dealing with it.”

Kushner declined to comment on whether Rhymes was questioned about the Ramirez case during his detention, saying the Ramirez investigation is ongoing and thus the district attorney’s office is not at liberty to discuss it.

Kushner also did not comment on why New York police waited a week to arrest Rhymes for the assault.

Rhymes was arraigned on the charge on Sunday morning and released on his own recognizance despite the district attorney asking for $3,000 bail, Leemon said (the request was waived by the judge). He is due back in court October 24. In addition to Rhymes, the rapper’s driver and another unidentified person were brought in by police and later released without charge, the attorney said. Kushner said the top assault charges carry penalties of up to a year in jail and fines.

Rhymes was arrested at around 8 p.m. Saturday after performing at the AmsterJam concert, which also featured LL Cool J, the Foo Fighters, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and others.

Earlier this year, Leemon vigorously defended G-Unit rapper Tony Yayo’s right not to speak to police in connection with the Ramirez shooting, despite eyewitness reports that had Yayo insulting several rival rap crews on the set prior to the incident, and then apologizing to Rhymes for the disturbance (see “Tony Yayo Won’t Speak To Police About Shooting On Busta Video Set, Lawyer Says” and “Recording Of Argument At Busta Rhymes Video Set Surfaces” ).

A spokesperson for Rhymes’ management company had not returned MTV News’ calls for comment at press time; a spokesperson for his record label, Interscope Records, had no comment.

The incident was the most recent in what has been a troubled year for Rhymes, who was previously noted for his ability to avoid violence. Amid the controversy over the Ramirez slaying, a fan filed suit against Rhymes in March for allegedly assaulting him (see “Busta Rhymes Hit With Assault Suit By Autograph Seeker” ).

[This story was originally published on 08.20.2006 at 12:55 p.m. ET]

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