Music publicist gives half-assed apology to sexual abuse victims

The storm that’s been brewing for years finally unleashed itself this week when Amber Coffman, front person of Brooklyn-based band Dirty Projectors, called out a popular publicist for sexual abuse.

In a series of tweets posted on Monday night, Coffman recounted an experience with Heathcliff Berru of Life or Death PR and Management, who represented artists such as Speedy Ortiz, DIIV, and Killer Mike. “I’ve been told many women have had scary stories about him for years but are scared to speak up. And dudes overlook it and keep hiring him,” Coffman tweeted.

The account, which was first highlighted at Brooklyn Magazine, was followed by a flood of similar tragic stories from women in the industry. Beth Martinez, owner of Danger Village PR, took to Twitter to reveal that she, too, is a victim of Berru’s indecency:

“I was too ashamed to tell anyone for years, and took me years to realize how fucked up that was. my stories aren’t even comparatively bad to what has happened to other girls by this person. he repeatedly put his hand down my shirt while driving me home after I told him to stop many times.”

Tearist’s Yasmine Kittles, Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino, and singer Roxy Lange are also among the women who came forward with their stories. After the news broke, Life or Death released a statement announcing Berru’s resignation as the company’s CEO. “Life or Death has a zero tolerance policy for the type of conduct alleged in today’s online postings,” the statement read in part. “We take these allegations very seriously.”

Berru, who founded the PR company in 2008, released a statement to LA Weekly in which he apologized for the incidents and divulged that he has been struggling with addiction issues. His addictions? Drugs and alcohol, which he in part blames for his inappropriate behavior. His solution? Going to a rehabilitation facility to seek outside help. He ended the statement by distancing himself from Life or Death: “In no way do these allegations reflect on Life or Death PR, its staff, or anyone associated with the company. These are my issues, not theirs. I could not be more proud of the company and what it stands for.” More from Berru’s statement: 

There have been several reports about my alleged inappropriate behavior which deserve a response. I am deeply sorry for those who I have offended by my actions and how I have made certain women feel. If I crossed the line of decency or respectfulness in situations when I was drunk and under the influence, there is no excuse of course.

But here are the main problems with Berru’s half-assed apology. First, he opens by addressing the stories as tales of his “alleged inappropriate behavior.” He’s clearly deep in the PR industry because he knows how to avoid culpability. Saying the behavior is “alleged” is akin to a slap in the face toward all the victims who have come forward. They know what happened and were brave enough to share their stories. He clearly knows what happened, hence the response.

At this point, it’s past an allegation. It seems to be the truth. Second, Berru skates past the accusations: “I am deeply sorry for those who I have offended by my actions and how I have made certain women feel.”

After this one-line admission, he quickly brings his personal issues into the mix: “If I crossed the line of decency or respectfulness in situations when I was drunk and under the influence, there is no excuse of course.” What follows is a semi-history of his addiction troubles and a sob story of how he’s already lost his wife and family. People have already spoken out against Berru’s apology, pointing out that he willfully avoided accepting responsibility by placing the blame on his addiction. Berru either called or texted the women he harassed the following day to half-heartedly apologize, Martinez told Jezebel. And his recent statement reads to many as his next-day texts read to his victims—fake.

Artists represented by Life or Death gave their support to Coffman and all of Berru’s victims, and some decided to end their relationship with the company. D’Angelo, Kelela, and DIIV have publicly announced their parting with Life or Death, while Killer Mike said he plans to remain with the company but supports the women involved.

The big question now is what role Berru will play at Life or Death in the future. A company rep, when asked if Berru retains ownership, told Jezebel that Berru “is no longer associated with the company in any way.” It’s clear that Berru is no longer CEO or part-owner of the firm, but will he still be making money off the company he founded only eight years ago? And after his planned stint in rehab, will he be welcomed back with open arms? It seems like it’s happened before.

[Brooklyn Magazine]