Country rap artist Mikel Knight who calls himself the “Country Rap King” lost a wrongful death civil suit in Nashville’s Davidson County Circuit Court on Friday (10-21), and a jury has awarded the mothers of two deceased individuals who previously worked for Mikel Knight a total of $20,718,575.20 in compensatory and punitive damages.
Taylor Robert Nixon and Robert Joseph Underfinger III were both killed in a June 16th, 2014 accident in Donley County, Texas while working for Mikel Knight. They were passengers in a 2005 Chevy van when it veered off the road after overcorrecting and losing control, and rolled several times before coming to a stop. The manager of the Mikel Knight street team and one other individual were also injured in the incident.
The Estate of Robert Nixon represented by his mother Shannon Baseman, and the Estate of Robert Joseph Underfinger III represented by his mother Donna Taylor, sued Mikel Knight, whose real name is Jason Cross, as well his companies and others involved in the accident. The families spent eight years attempting to pursue justice and restitution against Mikel Knight, including dealing with numerous delays over the last few years as Knight kept changing attorneys, and postponing the legal process. Eventually the judge set the trial date of Monday October 17th, and Mikel Knight chose to represent himself in this week’s trial.
The prosecution and defense rested their cases on Thursday (10-21), and the jury began to deliberate the case on Thursday before breaking for the evening and reconvening on Friday. The jury ultimately awarded $5.7 million in compensatory damages to Shannon Baseman and Donna Taylor. The jury also checked the box “yes” that they felt Mikel Knight had engaged in gross negligence, allowing the jury to award punitive damages as well.
During the punitive damages phase of the trial, Mikel Knight complained that he had been feeling sick all week, and wanted to go home. According to Knight, he had been staying in an AirBNB in Nashville with his family for the week. The judge cautioned Mikel Knight to remain in the courtroom until the punitive stage of the trial was finished, but he ultimately left. After the prosecution gave a short presentation on the punitive damages, the jury deliberated further and came back with another $15 million in damages.
According attorney Tracy Cary of Birmingham, AL who represented the two mothers, there are caps on damage amounts, and those numbers are likely to be reduced. For his part, Mikel Knight says he has no money, and will not be able to pay. He also signaled his intention to appeal the case. Knight also claims he no longer lives in Tennessee, and instead now resides in Palm City, Florida. He also claims to be “semi-retired,” and operates a jeans and printing business.
“The moms felt vindicated, that their story got told,” attorney Tracy Cary tells Saving Country Music. Attorney Joey Morris, as well as Nashville local attorney Will Hicky also helped to represent the mothers of Robert Nixon and Robert Underfinger.
The legal issues for Mikel Knight are not finished. Another previous worker for the Mikel Knight Street Team, Ky Rodgers, has a trial set to begin on Monday, October 31st. At one point, the Ky Rodgers case had been combined with the case of Robert Nixon and Robert Underfinger, but the judge severed the two cases to be heard separately.
Along with the harrowing stories of working long hours selling CDs face to face, witnessing fellow street team members being physically assaulted and sometimes left in remote towns for poor sales performance, and others not getting paid for their work, the account of Ky Rodgers about working on a Mikel Knight street team ended when the van he was riding in fell off a 3-story cliff in Utah and he was severely injured. Ky Rodgers had to be CareFlighted to a hospital from the crash scene. He’d broken his L2, L3, and L4 vertebrae, pelvis, sacrum, and was in the hospital for a week. Rodgers was left with tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills.
The Ky Rodgers account of his time employed on one of Mikel Knight’s street teams soon went viral, and would continuously get reshared as street teams traveled to locations across the United States to sell Mikel Knight CDs in decal wrapped motorhomes and vans. It became the basis of the Saving Country Music investigation, The Sound of Deception, Country Rap’s Mikel Knight & His Notorious Street Teams, which uncovered a history of violent and criminal behavior from Mikel Knight.
The saga of Mikel Night and his street teams became a national narrative in 2015, with Gawker publishing an extensive dive into the story, and Vice making Mikel Night a significant part of a documentary on Nashville, overlapping when Mikel Knight street steams were still traveling across the country and selling CDs face to face. Knight reportedly has sold more than 5 million albums, including many by hand. The operation appears to have ceased in recent years. Though Mikel Knight rarely performed live, he’s collaborated recently with other well-known country rappers such as Upchurch, as well as Jelly Roll, who is currently signed to BBR.