Omaha officials have dropped obscenity charges against two record retail chains after they agreed to stop selling sexually explicit albums by Miami rap group 2 Live Crew to minors.
The controversial case was dismissed late Tuesday after representatives for Trans World Music Corp., and Pickles Records & Tapes signed a stipulation saying they would cease selling the group’s “Sports Weekend--As Nasty as They Wanna Be Part II” album, as well as other potentially “harmful” recordings to underage customers.
“We dismissed the charges because we were convinced that these corporations had no criminal intent to sell the recording to juveniles,” Omaha City Prosecutor Gary Bucchino said Wednesday in a phone interview from Omaha. “After talking to their representatives, we found that they want the community kept free from distribution of these materials to minors and they were more than willing to cooperate with us. So, we decided to work with them.”
Tuesday’s unusual “good faith” agreement, which is not binding by law, also requires the retailers to either segregate potentially offensive recordings or install a warning system near the cash register to alert employees and customers that minors are not allowed to purchase “harmful” albums.
2 Live Crew leader Luther Campbell hailed Tuesday’s decision as a First Amendment triumph, but Jeffrey A. Jones, senior vice president and chief financial officer of the 597-outlet, Albany, N.Y.-based Trans World chain, said he resented the way Omaha officials handled the case.
“This was nothing but a huge waste of time,” said Jones, who maintains that his store already had such policies in effect on April 22 when Bucchino filed “distributing obscenity to minors” charges against the corporation.
“All that happened here was that we wasted thousands of dollars of our shareholders’ money on lawyers’ fees. God only knows how much the city of Omaha wasted. I don’t feel good at all about the way this situation was handled.”
The case, which was scheduled to go to trial in two weeks, was based on evidence allegedly gathered during a private sting orchestrated by Omaha City Councilman Steve Exon and an anti-pornography group called Omaha for Decency in conjunction with Bucchino and the city police vice squad. Employees at each store allegedly sold the sexually explicit album to minors.
Under Nebraska obscenity statutes, it is a first-degree misdemeanor to sell “harmful” material to minors, with violators subject to up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine upon conviction.
The stipulation specifies that “without admitting guilt” both retailers acknowledge that 2 Live Crew’s “Nasty II” cassette “may be harmful to minors.” Each company also agreed that more stringent methods should be taken in the future to prevent future sales of such material to minors.
Bucchino said representatives for the retailers discussed the possibility of employing a computerized point-of-sales device that would trigger a warning beep at the cash register every time a clerk rings up a sale for a potentially offensive album.
Richard Dinsmore, the attorney who represented Pickles owners Rod Ferguson and Bill Hempel, downplayed the significance of the restrictive language of the agreement.
“This was not a trade-off in any way, shape or form,” Dinsmore said. “We are under no legal obligation to do anything we haven’t already been doing. We already use a buzzer system. The important thing here, from a First Amendment perspective, is that the stores retain control over determining what may or may not be objectionable, not some prosecutor or government official.”
However, Bucchino, who four months ago successfully prosecuted Pickles Records & Tapes for selling 2 Live Crew’s 1989 “As Nasty as They Wanna Be” album to an 11-year-old girl, said he was satisfied with the outcome of the case.
“This isn’t just about 2 Live Crew,” he said. “This stipulation applies to all albums that contain sexual conduct. Omaha has not had any problems with hard-core porno dealers operating or distributing material containing sexual conduct to minors in our city for the past 15 years and our only purpose in pressing charges against these retailers was to ensure compliance with the ‘harmful to minor’ statute. We felt this agreement was a reasonable solution.”