(CN) – Insane Clown Posse has standing to challenge the FBI’s classification of the hip-hop duo’s fans, known as Juggalos, as a “hybrid gang,” the Sixth Circuit ruled Thursday.
The Detroit-based group’s members, Joseph Bruce aka Shaggy 2 Dope and Joseph Utsler aka Violent J, and four self-identified Juggalos sued the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI this past January in Detroit.
“State and local police routinely stop, detain, interrogate, photograph and document people like plaintiffs, who do not have any connections to gangs, because they have exercised their First Amendment rights to express their identity as Juggalos by displaying Juggalo symbols,” the lawsuit said. “Other Juggalos, including plaintiff Scott Gandy, have been denied consideration for employment because of the gang designation. The designation has a chilling effect on Juggalos’ ability to express themselves and to associate with one another.”
The FBI’s 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment described how a suspected Juggalo shot and wounded a King County, Wash. couple in January 2011. The report also says two suspected Juggalos were charged in January 2010 for allegedly beating and robbing an elderly homeless man.
Five of the six plaintiffs complained of harassment by third-party law enforcement, not the defendants DOJ or FBI. In one case, a Tennessee state trooper questioned a man regarding the ICP “hatchetman” symbol on his truck. In another, police in Citrus Heights and Sacramento, Calif., questioned a fan about his Juggalo tattoos and merchandise.
U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland dismissed the complaint last year, finding that neither the performers nor their fans have standing.
But the Sixth Circuit revived the suit Thursday, reversing the lower court and ruling that the stigma of a gang label gives the Juggalos standing to sue.
“The Juggalos’ allegations that their First Amendment rights are being chilled are accompanied by allegations of concrete reputational injuries resulting in allegedly improper stops, detentions, interrogations, searches, denial of employment, and interference with contractual relations. Stigmatization also constitutes an injury in fact for standing purposes,” U.S. District Judge Edmund Sargus, sitting by designation, wrote.
The unanimous panel compared the Juggalos’ predicament to a precedential case where a man was allowed to challenge his placement on a child-abuser registry due to the stigma such a designation placed upon him.
In addition, the Juggalos have reasonably shown that the “injurious third-party actions were motivated by the DOJ gang designation,” even if four individual states have separately designated the Juggalos as a gang, the Cincinnati-based appeals court found. Some of the alleged incidents occurred in states that had not designated Juggalos as a gang, the ruling states.
The three-judge panel found it reasonable to assume that a court order declaring the FBI’s gang designation unconstitutional would alleviate the public perception of Juggalos as a criminal group.
“The declaration the Juggalos seek would likely combat at least some future risk that they would be subjected to reputational harm and chill due to the force of the DOJ’s criminal gang or gang-like designation,” Sargus wrote.
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