Monday night on Twitter, Amber Coffman of the band Dirty Projectors recounted a story about a prominent music publicist whom she says sexually harassed her years ago. She named Heathcliff Berru — publicist at Life or Death PR and Management, which represents Odd Future, D’Angelo, DIIV, Killer Mike, Of Montreal, Speedy Ortiz, Cloud Nothings, and more — as the person in question who “rubbed my ass and bit my hair at a bar a couple years ago.” Coffman says she was inspired to go public with her story on Twitter last night after looking Berru up and finding not only that he is still working at Life or Death, but that he now represents some of her friends in the industry. “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,” she writes. “Tired of sketchy ass dudes and sexual predators getting a pass from their ‘bros.’ Grow a spine and hold your friends accountable.”
Other women have since come forward in response to Coffman’s tweets, backing up her allegations with traumatic personal experiences of their own. In her own series of tweets, Bethany Cosentino of the band Best Coast calls Berru a “scumbag” whom she was “too freaked out to ever say anything” about. “Seriously he’s not a good person on any level,” Cosentino writes.
Beth Martinez, music publicist at Danger Village PR, has also tweeted her account of Berru’s behavior. Martinez says that Berru “repeatedly put his hand down my shirt while driving me home after I told him to stop many times,” and asked her not to tell their mutual friend about the alleged assault. She claims she is “fairly certain I’ve been roofied by him or members of his crew on more than one occasion.” She continues: “I was really afraid that if I told anyone or did anything, it would hurt my career.”
Musician Roxy Lange now tells Brooklyn magazine — to which several other women in the music industry have also come forward — that Berru sexually assaulted her in 2007: “He kept trying to force me to give him a blowjob in a cab and wouldn’t stop pushing my head into his lap forcefully, with his pants unzipped and penis out in the open. After I got out of the cab, he followed me up 3 flights of stairs and forced his way into my apartment, attempting to force himself on me but he was luckily too drunk and coked up to get hard so he gave up. He then pissed himself and fell asleep in my bed while I laid there.”
Yasmine Kittles of Tearist tweeted that in 2009, Berru “forced [her] hand on his dick.”
Speedy Ortiz, Wavves, DIIV, Beach Fossils, Mixpak, and Kelela have all dropped Life or Death PR as their publicist. Killer Mike says that while he supports the women who have come forward, he will stay with another publicist from Life or Death. “[Berru] is still my friend and I will support him in being a better human being,” he tweeted. Reps for D’Angelo and the band Wet tell The Fader that their clients have left Life or Death.
Vulture has reached out to Berru for a statement.
Update: Heathcliff Berru has stepped down as CEO of Life or Death PR. Read the agency’s statement below, via Pitchfork:
Life or Death has a zero tolerance policy for the type of conduct alleged in today’s on-line postings. We take these allegations very seriously.
The men and women who make up this company do not, and will not, condone or tolerate any conduct described in the on-line postings. Life Or Death is 3 men and 3 women who are committed to promoting art and serving the clients that we’re so privileged to represent. We are taking measures to ensure that the alleged behavior did not, and will not, make its way into company operations or impact our commitment to promoting art and assisting our clients.
We are grateful to Heathcliff Berru for all the work he’s done to date and his creative vision at the company. We appreciate and support his decision to step down as CEO of Life Or Death.
Update No. 2: Berru has issued his first statement, via Billboard:
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. To be clear, while my conduct may have been inappropriate, I have never drugged anyone or engaged in that type of behavior. Nevertheless, I do not want to be the type of person who would let drugs or alcohol take command of his life and compromise how he treats people. Yet I have been this person and it’s time to put a stop to all of this. Create a world with one less inappropriate man.
I have been fighting a losing battle against drugs and alcohol for many years and will be checking into a rehabilitation facility in the hope that I can improve my chances of winning that fight. A year ago, I was confronted by a peer and began to try to clean up and make things right with therapy and with an eye towards quitting the addiction. The shame and sadness feels as strong now as it did then and I am making an immediate change.
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. That being said I have stepped down as the CEO and relinquishing all responsibility to the current president, Nick Dierl. The company shouldn’t have to deal with this distraction and I want Nick and the rest of the team to continue to do their good work while I take care of myself.
Update No. 3: As the number of women who have accused Heathcliff Berru of sexual abuse continues to grow, the remaining publicists at Life or Death PR have left the agency. Former president Nick Dierl announced in a series of tweets that, instead, “there will be a new venture imminently that bears no ties to Heathcliff Berru or the Life or Death name.” At least eight artists have severed ties with Life or Death since the allegations came to light.