A disgraced Chicago police officer who worked security for R. Kelly said at his federal trial in Brooklyn on Monday that he’d never seen the singer with underage girls — a claim he almost immediately and repeatedly contradicted in his testimony.
After the prosecution rested its case earlier in the day, defense lawyers called to the stand Larry Hood, Kelly’s longtime friend as well as his former bodyguard and a Chicago cop. Kelly has been charged with racketeering and human trafficking, and federal prosecutors have accused the R&B singer of leading a criminal “enterprise” that exploited his fame to sexually abuse numerous victims, many of who were underage. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Hood also said he wasn’t aware of any wrongdoing by Kelly, but his testimony contained a crucial contradiction: He denied ever seeing Kelly with any underage girls, but then admitted to seeing Aaliyah and some of her “little friends.” He testified that he met her at the same time as Kelly, and when asked whether she was 12 or 13 at that time, he said that was true. “Yeah, approximately,” he said. “She was a young lady, yes.”
Hood appeared to grow sheepish when questioned by prosecutors on whether he was aware Kelly had married Aaliyah when she was 15, initially saying he didn’t understand the question before replying that he “wasn’t there” when the ceremony took place. When pushed on whether he had known of the marriage’s existence, he said he became aware “later in life.”
He was also asked about Aaliyah’s 1994 album, Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number, which was produced by Kelly. The title song, as prosecutors described to the witness, is about a young girl attempting to seduce an older man in spite of their age difference. When asked whether it was true that Aaliyah was about 14 when she recorded it, Hood replied in a small voice, “Approximately, yes.”
Previously in the trial, a woman identified as Angela testified that Kelly began sexually abusing her when she was 14 or 15, and she said Hood was in Kelly’s Chicago apartment the night the singer first had sex with her in 1991. Angela said three other girls were also present, and that Kelly had sexual contact with all of them that night as Hood sat in the next room. While the singer was on tour a year or two later, Angela said she walked in on Kelly and Aaliyah having a sexual encounter when Aaliyah would’ve been just 13 or 14.
On Monday, Hood denied ever having seen anyone in the Chicago apartment besides himself or Kelly, but he confirmed knowing Angela and one of the other girls she’d said was there that night. “She was one of Aaliyah’s little friends... her little hype girls,” he said.
According to Hood’s testimony, he never saw Kelly abuse women, adding that he did not become aware of “any wrongdoing” while working for the singer. “As a police officer, I would have to take action against that,” Hood said.
Hood started working as security staff for Kelly in 1991 and became an officer with the Chicago Police Department in 1994. He worked with Kelly into the mid-1990s, and then again from 2002 to 2004, while continuing to work as a police officer. At times, he said, several of Hood’s “fellow officers” from the police force would join him in serving as Kelly’s personal security team.
Though Hood testified that he left the Chicago Police Department in 2007 “in good standing,” that turned out to be only a fraction of the truth. As the prosecution brought up and Hood confirmed, he left the force after pleading guilty to felony forgery for the use of fake $100 bills. When questioned on whether he had spoken truthfully while under oath in that case, Hood stumbled over his words, responding in an unclear manner. He confirmed, however, that he was testifying under oath about Kelly.
This is not the first time in the trial that there’s been indication that police officers may have overlooked signs that Kelly had allegedly been abusing underage girls. Earlier in the trial, an alleged victim, who was identified in court by the pseudonym Jane, testified that police officers interrupted her first sexual encounter with Kelly but left them be despite checking her ID card that said she was 17.
Jane said Kelly invited her to audition for him in a Disney World hotel room in 2015 but wound up pressuring her for sex until she gave in and performed oral sex on him. At one point, police knocked on the door, and a “very anxious and scared” Kelly told her to go into the bathroom and get dressed.
Jane had initially lied about her age, telling Kelly she was 18, though he questioned her on whether this was true before opening the door to the police. She also told police she was 18, but they checked her ID card, which listed her true age as 17. The officers did not acknowledge the discrepancy, she said, and it’s not clear if they realized how old she really was. They left after telling Kelly to give them a call if he ever wanted to hire them as security staff, she said.
Also testifying for the defense on Monday was Dhanai “Da-Ni” Ramanan, a failed aspiring rapper and R. Kelly fan. He described Kelly as a mentor and a friend, flatly denied the allegations against him, and spoke passionately about Kelly’s artistry.
Ramanan said he met Kelly at a mall in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and approached him due to his music industry ambitions. He said he was with him almost daily for the next 15 years until 2019. Despite spending so much time with Kelly, he was not on the singer’s payroll, and he also did not have a day job. When asked what his role was in Kelly’s circle, he replied, “to observe and to learn and to become.” He never wound up putting out an album and is now “working on a line of shoes,” he said.
Despite painting himself as a member of Kelly’s inner circle, Ramanan’s name has never previously come up in testimony, a stark contrast to the many employees and associates of the singer who have repeatedly been mentioned throughout the trial. Prosecutors showed photos of Kelly with his entourage while on tour, none of which Ramanan was pictured in, and the witness said he could not recall which of Kelly’s tours he accompanied him on.
During their cross-examination, prosecutors questioned Ramanan on how strongly he tied his music career to Kelly’s name, asking him at one point if it was fair to say it would not be in his “best interests” if Kelly were to be convicted.
They also questioned him on how much time he really spent with Kelly, suggesting it was far less than he had claimed and that he simply may not have been present during the alleged abuse.
“I was there pretty much the whole time,” he said, “But, you know.”