Obscenity charges against the 142-store Sound Warehouse chain were dropped Thursday in Dallas after the corporation agreed not to restock 2 Live Crew's "As Nasty as They Wanna Be" album.
Terry Worrell, president of Sound Warehouse--the first chain ever to be cited at the corporate level for distributing obscene music--said he was relieved that the prosecution was over.
"Frankly, I'm a little bit embarrassed for the district attorney's office that they allowed something like this to go on for so long," Worrell said in a phone interview from Dallas. "Given the extremely high crime rate in Dallas, we're very happy they've decided to get back to the business of protecting citizens from real crime on the streets and leave the First Amendment intact."
John Mitchell, legal counsel for the National Assn. of Recording Merchandisers, the organization which represents the nation's major retail chains, said the threat to try Sound Warehouse served the prosecutors' purposes and "chilled" free speech even though the charges were dropped.
"You know how they say the Mafia uses intimidating tactics to get businesses to pay insurance fees in order to be free from certain harassments, well the situation is similar here," Mitchell said in a phone interview from Washington Friday. "The only difference is that instead of money changing hands what's being bartered is America's First Amendment rights."
The record store chain, which is a subsidiary of Burbank-based Shamrock Corp., was charged in August with nine counts of distributing obscene materials to adult or minors after a July incident in which the Dallas County district attorney's office sent a 13-year-old boy undercover to a Sound Warehouse retail outlet to purchase a copy of the rap album. If convicted, the company could have faced a maximum penalty of $10,000 for each misdemeanor violation.
David Pickett, the assistant district attorney for Dallas County who engineered the sting, could not be reached for comment. Picket, who lost a bid for a criminal district court judgeship post in the Tuesday's election, returned to his former position Wednesday after taking a leave of absence in September to mount his campaign.
In a telephone interview Friday, Dallas County Criminal Court Judge George Shepherd said he dropped the charges "two days after the election" at the request of prosecutors.
"My personal belief is that this case was political," Worrell said. "The timing of the motion to dismiss the obscenity charges seems to be a little bit more than coincidental."
Worrell said that Sound Warehouse has maintained a "published" policy of not selling adult-oriented materials to minors since June, 1989, but voluntarily stopped selling the "Nasty" album in Dallas County on July 27, following "adverse community reaction" after the undercover sting.
Still, Pickett went ahead with prosecution, demanding that Sound Warehouse not only pull the album from 142 stores in 14 states, but insisted that company officials also attend a press conference endorsing his crusade, Worrell said.
On Oct. 19, Pickett told The Times that he was assembling evidence in hopes of prosecuting not only Sound Warehouse in the Dallas case, but also its parent company, the Los Angeles-based Shamrock Corp., on third-degree felony charges for wholesale distribution of obscenity. Shamrock is an investment firm controlled by Roy E. Disney.
Worrell said his decision not to restock the record was a "business decision."
"We're not out looking for trouble here," Worrell said. "But we were willing to fight the corporate charges in court. I think it'll be a cold day in hell before any prosecutor goes off on another one of these tangents."