Lil Peep Wrongful Death Case: Unsealed Texts Reveal “Drug-Infected Mismanagement,” Rapper’s Mom Argues – Pitchfork
In late October 2017, Lil Peep’s tour manager Belinda Mercer texted a colleague: “This is the most mortifying experience of my life.” Mercer, who’d been on the job for only a month, had been detained at the Canadian border after authorities found illegal substances in her bag and on Peep’s tour bus; the bus had gone on to its next stop in Toronto without her. “I legit want to die,” Mercer continued. “Like omg.”
Mercer’s text messages, along with the transcript of a deposition she gave in September 2021, are part of a 372-page compendium of evidence filed on January 28 by lawyers for Peep’s mother, Liza Womack, in her lawsuit over the death of her 21-year-old son. Peep, whose given name was Gustav Åhr, suffered a fatal drug overdose on November 15, 2017—three weeks after the incident at the Canadian border. The evidence—obtained by Pitchfork via online records—comes ahead of a hearing scheduled for February 10 where a Los Angeles Superior Court judge could decide the crux of the case without it going to a jury for a trial. Legal experts have said that the suit could change the way the music industry views drugs.
In October 2021, lawyers for Peep’s management company First Access Entertainment (FAE) and Mercer asked the judge to seal seven pages of documents, including Mercer’s texts to FAE colleagues, arguing that they contained information that was private or self-incriminating. Womack’s lawyers wrote in a response, “These seven pages help tell the story of the drug-infected mismanagement that is part of [Womack’s] central narrative and led to her son’s death.” They argued, “What these documents mostly contain are exchanges that reveal FAE tour management as dangerous, discordant, inept, and engaged in conduct that contributed to [Peep]’s death.”
Last month, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Teresa Beaudet ruled that, aside from a handful of brief redactions, the contested documents “do not warrant sealing.” What follows is a summary of new information that stands out in the seven disputed pages and the 372-page filing that contains them.
A basic outline of Belinda Mercer’s October 25, 2017 Canadian border stop was previously reported by David Peisner in Rolling Stone. But her deposition testimony that drugs were found in the bag has not yet been reported. Her text messages with her First Access Entertainment colleagues show that FAE and Mercer “mishandled the tour, including by serving as the tour drug dealer, in a way that led to [Peep]’s death,” Womack’s lawyers argued last fall.
Paul Matiasic, an attorney for Womack, told Pitchfork in an emailed statement, “The vigor with which FAE and Mercer fought to shield this information from the public record speaks volumes as to the inculpatory nature of these text messages.”
The text messages date back to September 25, 2017, a week before Peep’s final U.S. tour was to begin. Mercer and FAE employee Daisy Quin were discussing touring logistics, including hiring a tour bus instead of a van like on previous tours. “I am literally lost,” Quin wrote. “I don’t know how this is going to happen,” Mercer wrote. “It’s a proper mess,” Quin wrote, adding, “Sarah knows,” in an apparent reference to FAE CEO Sarah Stennett.
Peep’s European tour manager, Stephen Paul, worked alongside Mercer. Later in September 2017, according to the texts, Quin and Mercer disparaged Paul’s fitness for the job. Quin also intimated that Paul got the position only because he was the cousin of “someone very important at FAE.” Quin wrote, “Honestly this is so first access.” In another apparent reference to Stennett, the CEO, Quin wrote that “Sarah” was “up at 4am screaming down the phone” due to her “poor” staffing.
Several hours after Mercer’s detention at the Canadian border, she apologized to her colleagues. “Bottom line is that I am so sorry and embarrassed about it all,” Mercer wrote in a WhatsApp message. “It was a huge mistake and will never happen again.” She did not elaborate on the nature of the mistake.
Mercer, in her September 2021 deposition, said that part of why she was detained at the Canadian border, and others on the bus were not, was because “they found substances on the bus and some were in [her] bag.” (Earlier, she clarified that when she was talking about “substances,” she was referring to “illegal substances”; she testified that substances were also found elsewhere on the bus, not only in her bag.) Mercer said that she paid a $2,000 fine, but did not detail the reason, according to the transcript excerpts. (Rolling Stone previously reported that Quin said she was aware of the fine.)
Rolling Stone reported that Mercer was allegedly using and giving out ketamine on the tour. In Mercer’s September 2021 deposition testimony, according to the recently filed court document, she said that Peep asked her for drugs potentially as many as 100 times. She confirmed that “ket,” which she and Peep had texted about on October 22, 2017, meant “ketamine.” Mercer also repeatedly invoked her right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment when asked about illegal drugs.
According to court documents, Mercer made two Venmo payments to a man named Riley Fatch on November 6, 2017, and she invoked her Fifth Amendment privilege rather than describe the reasons for the payments. She acknowledged, however, that despite memos saying the payments were for “bus maintenance” and “bus restock,” Fatch did not work for her or serve a role on the tour. “Venmo, at the time, made you put a reason,” she testified regarding the “bus restock” note. “I don’t really have an explanation aside from that.” (Fatch was later indicted on federal drug charges, which were terminated upon his death in 2019.)
Womack’s lawyers wrote, “Mercer’s testimony suggests the dysfunctional, ultimately lethal state of [Peep]’s U.S. tour.”
The January 28 document also includes deposition excerpts and other evidence from Mercer’s fellow tour manager Stephen Paul, Peep’s prior tour manager Sherwin Shapouri, Peep’s former production tech Brian Ledet, Peep’s former manager Bryant “Chase” Ortega, and FAE CEO Sarah Stennett.
Originally filed in 2019, Womack’s suit claims wrongful death, negligence, and breach of contract against First Access Entertainment, Mercer, FAE CEO Sarah Stennett, and former manager Bryant “Chase” Ortega.
Lawyers for FAE, in their motion for summary judgment filed on July 23, 2021, argued that Peep’s contract with FAE shielded them from liability for alleged fraud and negligence and Womack can’t prove that their alleged negligence caused Peep’s death. Mercer and Ortega joined FAE’s motion.
Womack’s lawyers contended, in an opposing September 23, 2021 brief, that the case should be heard by a jury. They argued that the alleged negligence isn’t covered by Peep’s FAE deal and that what caused Peep’s death goes beyond who gave him the fatal drugs. Womack’s allegations, they wrote, span “more than just the last days of [Peep]’s life” and “involve wider misconduct”: His mother asserts “not only that [Peep] was directly provided or urged to take drugs, but that FAE ran the tour as a lethal debauch.”
Lawyers for FAE, Stennett, Mercer, and Ortega didn’t respond on the record to Pitchfork’s requests for comment. In court papers last summer, Mercer denied causing Peep’s death “in any way.” Since 2019, FAE has called Womack’s lawsuit “groundless and offensive”; Stennett, through her attorney, has denied giving Peep any drug; and Ortega has called Womack’s lawsuit against him “entirely baseless, misguided, and without merit.”