Dumb Police Raid On Parody Twitter User Cost Peoria $125,000
By aaroncynic in News on Sep 2, 2015 9:11PM
Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis
Last year, Peoria police raided Daniel’s home and arrested him along with four other people in connection with the Twitter account, @Peoriamayor. Though the account, which tweeted a handful of times to a handful of followers fictional updates about drug use and prostitutes, was suspended some time before anyone outside of the city in central Illinois took notice, Ardis went ahead and ordered police to raid the home.
Ardis, seemingly misunderstanding how free speech and parody social media accounts work, was not only defensive of the raid but even threatened his own counter defamation suit after the incident became national news.
“I never dreamed that it would result in my home being raided and me being placed under arrest,” said Daniel in a press release published by the ACLU, who filed the suit on his behalf.
According to the settlement, the city will pay out $125,000 to Daniel and his legal team, and will issue a directive to the Peoria Police Department reminding them that parody and satire of public officials are indeed, protected speech, specifically stating:
“The First Amendment protects many forms of online speech, including Parody and Satire when the parody or satire is reasonably perceived.”
The agreement between the two parties says that neither side admits any wrongdoing or misconduct. Incredibly, city officials say they would've won the case. According to the Peoria Journal Star, Jim Sotos, an attorney for the city said:
"In fact, we believe strongly that the City would have ultimately won the case, but the reality is it would have cost the City several times the amount of the settlement in order to win in Court, and as a result, settling early was the soundest fiscal strategy for the taxpayers."
Sotos also stated that Peoria officials followed the rules by going to a judge to obtain warrants, something he's previously said. Despite following procedure however, executing a search warrant and confiscating laptops, cell phones and other items over a parody Twitter account is more than overkill. Karen Sheley, senior staff counsel at the ACLU said:
“Hurt feelings do not free government from the responsibility of respecting Mr. Daniel’s freedom of speech and freedom from being arrested for that speech...The directive makes clear that parody should never be the predicate for a criminal investigation and that the action against Mr. Daniel should never be repeated again.”
Lawyers with the firm Miller Shakman & Beem LLP, who assisted the ACLU, say they hope that not only Ardis and other Peorians learned something, but that other cities take notice as well. “We hope that every municipality across the State is watching and learning that police investigations based solely on parody are not permitted under our Constitution,” said Mark Beem, a partner at the firm.