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In the summer of 2018, Meshaun Labrone, a former officer with the Metropolitan Police Department, performed his intense one-man play, Spook, as part of the Capital Fringe Festival. Labrone played Daryl “Spook” Spokane, an MPD cop on death row for murdering five fellow officers. The play takes place the hour before Spook’s scheduled execution when he’s interviewed on live TV, speaking for the first time about why he went on his killing spree.
Spook explores racial dynamics within the police department and on the street, along with the pressures and frustrations that weigh on Black officers as they try to enforce the law while navigating racism within their own ranks. The Capital Fringe performances drew good crowds, and Labrone says officers of all backgrounds—Black, White, Latino, Asian— gave it good reviews: “They said the play captured the pressures of being an officer.”
Now Labrone’s story is available to a much broader audience. In December, the movie version—which runs a few seconds north of an hour—began airing on Tubi TV.
“As an independent artist, the opportunity to put out a film on this platform makes me very happy,” says Labrone, 48. “It’s been a long, rough journey.”
Spook became a movie thanks to a word-of mouth recommendation from a law enforcement officer, Labrone says. But getting to this point was slow going.
Buoyed by the positive reception Spook received at Capital Fringe, Labrone hoped to take the play to other venues, but didn’t get any traction. He performed it only once, during the festival, at Arena Stage. “We performed to a sold-out venue and got a great reception,” Labrone says. But the positive showing didn’t lead to additional performances.
A year later, during Labrone’s brief time working as a Department of Energy officer, he mentioned his play to a colleague, who encouraged him to continue trying to reach a wider audience. Months later, in 2020, the same officer reached out to Labrone; he’d mentioned Labrone’s plays—including one on Tupac Shakur—to someone potentially interested in his work, who could possibly help him find a wider audience.
Nate Starck and Mark Finkelpearl, founding partners of the D.C.-based media and entertainment company Flying Scoop, were filming a TV special on hip-hop impresario Sean “Diddy” Combs and the murders of Shakur and Biggie Smalls when they were introduced to Labrone, the ex-cop who’d written and performed a play about Shakur.
“We immediately recognized his talent as a storyteller and on-screen talent,” Starck says. “We invited him to participate in our filming because of his law enforcement background and the play he’d written on Tupac. Then we started kicking around ideas to collaborate on a separate film project.” Due to the pandemic’s shuttering of most live theaters, the three began exploring Labrone’s one-man plays as potential projects. Starck figured, “We could turn [one] into an innovative film that’s relatively safe during COVID-19.”
The same day Starck and Finkelpearl interviewed Labrone as an expert for the Tupac-Biggie project, massive protests broke out nationwide in response to the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Labrone mentioned Spook and showed the two producers a taped performance. The recording wasn’t high-quality, but Starck and Finkelpearl were enthralled by the story and Labrone’s performance.
“His messages about race relations and law enforcement are so provocative and unique that you just can’t stop talking about this story for days or weeks later,” says Starck. “His play exploring privilege and police brutality should be required viewing for anyone entering law enforcement as a career or interested in police reform.”
Labrone says the bulk of Spook was filmed in one day last September at the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre.
The film is bracketed by brief remarks by a character named Keith Glover, a corrections officer who knew Spook. Glover is portrayed by Lawrence Glover, Labrone’s former MPD colleague and mentor. In his fleeting screen time, Glover is world-weary but determined, representing what Spook would have become if he hadn’t snapped.
Like the play, the film consists almost entirely of Spook’s pre-execution TV interview monologue. Labrone is charismatic and, at moments, an unsettling presence. His performance—and the story—is devoid of sentimentality and easy answers. Spook speaks as he’s strapped to the death chair, awaiting a lethal injection.
“Every person that puts on the badge and then violates the public trust should be charged with treason, dragged out in the middle of the streets where they patrolled, and beheaded,” Spook says, matter-of-factly. “Spike their heads upon a stake in the middle of First and Main as a warning to all who violate the public trust. That is not anger. That is American.”
Photos of Spook’s victims are flashed during the film: The four officers, three of them White, that he shot to death during a roll call in which he wounded 11 others, along with a picture of the fifth officer, his Black woman partner, who he bludgeoned to death.
Labrone was inspired to write Spook, in part, by the 2013 shooting rampage by former Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner, who allegedly shot five police officers, killing two, after accusing the department of firing him for reporting excessive force. Dorner, who died in a shoot-out with law enforcement, also killed the daughter of a retired police captain and her fiancé, according to authorities.
Labrone also drew on his own experience as an MPD officer from 2013 to 2016, as well as stories he heard from fellow cops. He hopes the film will inspire viewers to “talk and act” about the issues of race and law enforcement that are raised in Spook.
“He was a monster created by society and his environment,” Labrone says. “Until we come to understand there’s no black and white world—it’s gray—and start to communicate with each other, his ending will happen to us. We have to understand we are all part of the human family. This is not just a cop story, it’s a human story, an American story.”
Spook can be streamed online at Tubi TV. tubitv.com/movies/628911/spook.