R. Kelly, the disgraced R&B singer who is serving a 30-year prison sentence for multiple sex crimes, has been ordered to pay $10.5 million to six of his former victims who were threatened by his former manager at a screening of the docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly” in 2018.
Terrorist Threats Shut Down the Screening
The screening of the docuseries, which exposed Kelly’s decades-long history of sexual abuse and exploitation of young women and girls, was scheduled to take place at a theater in New York City on December 4, 2018. However, the event was abruptly canceled after someone called the producers and claimed that there was “someone in the theater with a gun” who was “going to shoot up the place” if the screening continued.
The anonymous caller was later identified as Donnell Russell, Kelly’s former manager and confidant, who was part of a campaign to intimidate and silence the victims and the producers of the docuseries. According to the lawsuit filed by the six women, Russell and Kelly began their efforts to stop the screening as early as May 2018, when they sent legal threats and cease-and-desist letters to A&E/Lifetime and the producers.
Victims Suffered PTSD and Panic Attacks
The six women who sued Kelly and Russell were among the dozens of survivors who shared their stories of abuse and trauma in the docuseries. They claimed that the terrorist threat at the screening reopened their past wounds and caused them to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic attacks. They also alleged that Kelly and Russell violated their rights to free speech and expression by trying to prevent them from telling their truth.
The lawsuit sought compensatory and punitive damages for emotional distress, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, medical expenses, and attorney fees. On August 25, 2023, a judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded them a total of about $10.5 million from Kelly and Russell. The amount ranged from $1.1 million to $2.25 million per victim, depending on the severity of their injuries.
R. Kelly’s Music Still Generates Revenue
The question remains whether the victims will ever receive any of the money they are owed by Kelly and Russell. The singer is currently broke and has no assets to his name. However, his music is still generating revenue from streaming platforms and royalties. As reported by TMZ, just over $500k of his royalties from Universal Music Group are going to pay restitution he owed victims from one of his federal sex crimes cases.
Kelly is also facing several other lawsuits from his accusers, as well as criminal charges in multiple states for racketeering, sexual assault, kidnapping, bribery, and child pornography. He was convicted in September 2021 in New York for running a criminal enterprise that recruited and exploited women and girls for his sexual gratification. He is awaiting sentencing in May 2023, which could add up to life in prison.