Police, City Use Ridiculous 'Cyberstalking' Claim To Try To Identify & Jail Creator Of Mocking Videos

from the police-state? dept

An anonymous reader points us to the absolutely crazy goings on in Renton, Washington, where the police and city prosecutor are seeking jailtime for an anonymous person (or people) who created some Xtranormal videos mocking the Renton police force. Most of the news reports on this story keep calling whoever did this a "cartoonist," but all they really did was use Xtranormal -- a popular tool that wev'e used ourselves -- to create simple animated videos by typing in a script. You can see one of the videos embedded below (assuming it stays up):
Given standard Xtranormal fare, this may be the most boring such video I've seen. But, clearly, it's been created by someone who is an insider, probably on the police force, who is venting about certain administrative decisions and administrators. The police and the city prosecutor then cooked up a search warrant (embedded below) to try to identify the person behind the videos, who variously goes by the name MrFuddlesticks, whothehellispenny or tellinthetruth. That search warrant was obtained by a local news channel, KIROTV, who originally broke this story. It spells out various evidence as to why the videos are clearly about people and incidents involving the Renton police force.

And then, it tries to claim that the whole thing is "cyberstalking." Why? Because apparently some of the people the video is mocking say they're embarrassed about the videos. That seems to be the extent of the cyberstalking. As you read the filing, though, the details of the warrant appear to suggest that many of the references in the videos refer to actual events.

It's extremely difficult to see how anything here raises to the level of cyberstalking. KIROTV asked lawyer Venkat Balasubramani (whose blog posts we regularly link to here) his opinion on the search warrrant, and he noted that:
“The cyberstalking angle doesn't pass the laugh test," Balasubramani told KIRO-TV. "It's a serious stretch and I'd be surprised if somebody looked at it and realistically thought these acts actually fit the statute and we could make somebody criminally liable."

When we asked about the more likely scenario, Balasubramani said, "I think they were trying to get at the speaker and they looked around for a statute that shoehorned their conduct into and sent that to Google and said ‘turn over the information.”

Historically, Google and You-Tube are far more likely to cough up an anonymous animator's real name when there's a criminal case, as opposed to just an internal affairs investigation into some personnel issues.
In fact, from the warrant, it looks like Google just handed over the info upon receipt of the subpoena, without questioning it at all. The city was then trying to get more info from Google about the gmail address that "mrfuddlesticks" was using, in an effort to identify the person.

This seems like a pretty broad overreach. The prosecutor appears to be taking a exceptionally broad interpretation of the cyberstalking law, saying that anything done "with intent to harass... torment, or embarass" is criminal. As Eugene Volokh has pointed out, if the law really allows for such an interpretation, then the law is "clearly unconstitutionally overbroad." Furthermore he notes:
Moreover, the statute would be clearly unconstitutional as applied to this video, and the prosecutor and the judge ought to know this. (The prosecutor is Renton Chief Prosecutor Shawn Arthur; the judge on an earlier warrant was James Cayce, but I don’t know what the affidavit said there, and I don’t know the name of the judge who apparently issued the warrant based on the affidavit included with the KIRO story.) A search warrant can only be issued if there is probable cause to believe that it will uncover evidence of a crime; since the material described in the affidavit can’t be made criminal under the cited statute, given the First Amendment, the warrant ought not have been issued. The government is not permitted to use its coercive power to identify the author of this constitutionally protected video.
This whole thing raises tremendous abuse of power and First Amendment questions. It seems that their entire intent is to try to identify someone who is mocking them publicly by abusing certain laws and procedures to reveal that anonymous parodist.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Dave, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 12:08pm

    I hope he covered his tracks

    Considering how easy it is for law enforcement to get corporations to cough up information, it seems the only way to go is to use fake info.

    As far as I can tell, the only place he might have been vulnerable is with Xtranormal since he used more than the free level of service, they might have payment information. Even that can be obscured, though. Good luck, dude!

     

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  2.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Aug 5th, 2011 @ 12:15pm

    Boring!

    Would've been much better as a porn-parody video... you know, the kind with a script... a script with speaking parts, that is.

     

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  3.  
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    Overcast (profile), Aug 5th, 2011 @ 12:18pm

    R.I.P. Free Speech.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 12:20pm

    Accountabililty

    We need to hold prosecutors accountable for bringing questionable cases like this.

    I don't want my prosector to develop groundbreaking ways to find and prosecute people the police department doesn't like. I want him to be prosecuting actual crimes.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 12:20pm

    This is why people should be forced to use their real names on the internet. They should not be able to make fun of law enforcement and get away with it.

     

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  6.  
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    The eejit (profile), Aug 5th, 2011 @ 12:21pm

    So, these chuckleheads are trying to use cyberstalking laws to actually stalk someone.

    Great Job, Sport!

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 12:22pm

    Re: Accountabililty

    ...to find and prosecute people the police department doesn't like.

    Speaking out against the government is a crime. Everywhere. Always has been.

    They call it “sedition”.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 12:24pm

    Re:

     

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  9.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Aug 5th, 2011 @ 12:26pm

    Re: Re: Accountabililty

    Too bad they repealed the Sedition Act--it could totally be used against idiots in the government who "caused others to view the American government or its institutions with contempt."

     

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  10.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Aug 5th, 2011 @ 12:34pm

    Embed added

    Somehow, I forgot to include the embed of the search warrant. I've just added it..

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 12:35pm

    Re: Re: Re: Accountabililty

    "caused others to view the American government or its institutions with contempt."

    What contempt?

    Be reasonable: People are peaceful, happy, quiet. No-one is rioting.

    You see? It's just a few seditious fools out there, and the state will take care of them quickly and efficiently. No muss.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 12:50pm

    Wait, you mean that law enforcement could care less about civil rights? Shocking, just shocking.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 12:52pm

    In the embedded document, this crime requires, in part, "making any lewd, lascivious, indecent, or obscene words, images, or language, or suggesting the commision of any lewd act."

    Does it matter if the person actually DID commit those acts, or were officially investigated for them? Because it looks like that's the case, from the warrant.

    "'Just thinking about getting bent over a Harley wearing chaps by a butt pirate gives me the heebie-jeebies' The reference in this video dicusses a past incident involving Traffic Sergeant Matthews."

    Horrible mental images aside... if this is the truth, and already a matter of public record, then what exactly is the problem?

     

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  14.  
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    Karl (profile), Aug 5th, 2011 @ 1:00pm

    More judicial stupidity

    A search warrant can only be issued if there is probable cause to believe that it will uncover evidence of a crime; since the material described in the affidavit can’t be made criminal under the cited statute, given the First Amendment, the warrant ought not have been issued.

    They didn't pay attention to this in the ICE seizures, either. Apparently "guilty until proven innocent" is how many judges operate nowadays.

    Hopefully their higher-ups in the circuit courts will smack them down. A man can dream, can't he?

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 1:04pm

    Re:

    The problem is that the statute is ridiculously worded to cover activity that is protected by the First Amendment.

     

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  16.  
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    gorehound (profile), Aug 5th, 2011 @ 1:11pm

    Reading this elsewheres and I thought that as this perculates thru the Internet this Renton PD will see a ton more of these videos where they are made out to be the true idiot PIGS they are.

    And I hope the guy who made them can sue the fuck out of these bastard Cops who give good Police a bad name.

     

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  17.  
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    hmm (profile), Aug 5th, 2011 @ 1:13pm

    well

    So its "cyberstalking" to embarass someone?

    Holy shit 99.99999999999999999999999999999999999% of the interwebs needs to be shut down NOW (for the children etc)........

    I say we find the creator of keyboard cat and publicly behead them in a middle school gym for daring to embarass cats & their owners.....

    Then we can start on all those that ever took the piss out of Michael Jackson (This will also double as population control since we can set up mass extermination camps..all we need to do is show people something deemed "humorous yet embarassing" and if they crack a smile we shoot em in the back of the head MAFIAA (not a typo) style....

     

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  18.  
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    sheenyglass (profile), Aug 5th, 2011 @ 1:24pm

    Re: I hope he covered his tracks

    Very true. Although in this case, Google didn't have a choice - this was a search warrant, not a subpoena.

    Subpoenas can be challenged by making a motion to quash, search warrants cannot. That is why a search warrant requires a magistrate to validate the existence of probable cause.

    What's especially disgusting about this is that the remedy for an unconstitutional search is exclusion from evidence in the criminal proceeding. Since it is clear that here they are using the criminal justice system on a pretensual basis in order to obtain information. Its absolutely revolting that the prosecutor would take part in this.

     

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  19.  
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    membiblio (profile), Aug 5th, 2011 @ 1:49pm

    I'm hoping this incident will end up the way this one did:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/07/us/07nurses.html?pagewanted=all

    Very similar - prosecutor colluding with law enforcement. Bullied citizens, crushed peoples lives, did not respect his office nor understand his authority or responsibility to the community. Now he is being prosecuted.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    maxnicks, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 1:53pm

    Thing is, the cops in Washington State should be viewed with contempt and disrepect. Hold it, I mean the pigs, er the fuzz, wtf. If they have a badge, then HATE them. Anybody with a badge is the ENEMY. KILL MURDER MAYHEM.

    There, subpoena me, arrest me. My opinion may incite riot.

     

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  21.  
    icon
    Brandon Blackmoor (profile), Aug 5th, 2011 @ 2:27pm

    If only!

    If only every internet account were tied inexplicably to the "real" government-issued identification of the user, troublemakers like this "parodist" could be silenced, or at least identified and jailed.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    JeffP, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 2:31pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Accountabililty

    Srsly? Move on - no problems here... your government always knows what is best for you...

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 2:33pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Accountabililty

    Darn right, and good on them for doing it. Some of the people in the comments section here at Techdirt are next.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 2:35pm

    Re: Re:

    You think people should just be able to run around making fun of our proud men and women in blue without being punished? These people are out there risking their life day after day. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from getting what is coming to you.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    icon
    Angry Puppy (profile), Aug 5th, 2011 @ 2:35pm

    Nice Job

    The search warrant declaration is funnier (and more disturbing), in my mind, than the video. It also causes hugely more defamation and embarrassment than the videos and so is far closer to actual harassment. Either all of these officials are remarkably obtuse or one (or more) of them is not and she/he has created a plan for the most brilliant revelation of a dysfunctional public service that I have ever seen - the people hushing it up actually make public what was hushed. I think several top Renton officials have just incriminated themselves (or were incriminated) in breach of public trust charges or at least demotion or dismissal. If the latter (a scheme rather than a Marx Brothers comedy - "Duck Soup" come to mind), the designer(s) of this scheme should have worked for the CIA in covert operations and counter terrorism; The cold war would have ended in 1960 and 9/11/2001 wold not have happened.

    I saw this on local news this morning and I'm sure it will go federal. It's good timing - the public is generally upset at dysfunctional government and the media is tuned in to this issue at he moment with the budget mishandling.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 2:37pm

    Re: well

    Holy shit 99.99999999999999999999999999999999999% of the interwebs needs to be shut down NOW (for the children etc)........

    Techdirt certainly does. The Maz embarrasses himself on a daily basis here and should probably sue himself for it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 2:49pm

    It just sounds like a whiny f^ck whining.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 4:19pm

    Re:

    So your name is Anonymous Coward?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 4:22pm

    Re: Re:

    Yes. That is my real name.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Alien Bard, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 4:38pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    "These people are out there risking their life day after day."

    Not the ones being made fun of.

    The individuals under attack don't take risks. They are leeches who achieved their current soft positions by riding on the backs of the real cops and sucking the life out of their hosts when they had served their purpose.

    These are the individuals who cause the men and women in blue to have so much trouble with their image. I still remember back when I was young and the police were heroes who put their lives on the line to protect the innocent. Well, maybe not heroes but they were respected. Today the leeches have sucked all that respectability out of the force by dragging the whole system through the muck with them as they pursue their personal interests.

    The same corruption has happened in all walks of society, but the police had the farthest to fall and the most to be embarrassed about.

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    Alien Bard, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 4:45pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Sorry, I know I shouldn't feed the trolls but sometimes I just can't help myself. :(

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    icon
    Bergman (profile), Aug 5th, 2011 @ 4:46pm

    Under the standard the police are using, a newspaper printing an article on their website about a criminal would be guilty of cyberstalking...if the police hold a press conference and have the information online, they would likewise be guilty.

     

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  33.  
    identicon
    Alien Bard, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 4:51pm

    Re: If only!

    The jails are full. Carefully planed drive-by-shootings/home-invasions are so much cheaper and more effective.

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    A Guy, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 5:09pm

    If they did find out his identity and didn't just waste the public's time and money pursuing this...

    Couldn't the person-in-question sue the government for violating his Constitutional rights in civil court?

    Losing in civil court would probably be enough to embarrass someone out of a job I would hope.

     

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  35.  
    icon
    Kaden (profile), Aug 5th, 2011 @ 5:11pm

    Re: Re: well

    Why do you even bother?

     

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  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 6:11pm

    Kiro7 News: Renton Police Shopped Prosecutors To Make Case

     

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  37.  
    icon
    LAUGHINGMYASSOFF (profile), Aug 5th, 2011 @ 6:37pm

    crooked police.

    There around crimimals all day so why not act like them. Cops and district atty's are becoming more and more like criminals themselves. I was watching a show today on Date Line, prime example of police coruption and missconduct. I will never visit ROCK HILL SOUTH CAROLINA, sorry Carrowinds. I hope the sAME EXACT THING HAPPENS TO SOMEONE IN THEIR FAMLIES, DISCUSTING.

     

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  38.  
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    LAUGHINGMYASSOFF (profile), Aug 5th, 2011 @ 6:44pm

    ANOMOUS

    FIRST AMMENDMENT, FREEDOM OF SPEACH DOESNT SAY ANYTHING ABOUT IDENIFYING WHO THE WHRITER IS, YOU PEOPLE AER IDIOTS

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
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    LAUGHINGMYASSOFF (profile), Aug 5th, 2011 @ 7:02pm

    CROOKED COPS

    YOU REALLY SHOULD THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX SOME TIME. COME TO FIND OUT THAT THEY HAD BEEN MAKING ALL THE DECISIONS WITH THEIR HEAD IN THE TOILET. I HAVE HAD TO PERFORM MANY OPERATIONS TO CORRECT THIS. SOMETIMES THE PATIENT HAS "OCULAR RECTAL LITAS" THIS IS WHERE THEIR OCULAR NERVES ARE ATTACHED TO THEIR ASS HOLE AND THEY HAVE A SHITTY OUT LOOK ON LIFE. I ALSO HAVE A OVER LOAD OF WIN DECTAMIES. THATS THEN THESE COPS AND DISTRICT ATTYS HAVE THEIR HEAD SO FAR UP THEIR ASSES THAT I HAVE TO INSTALL A WINDOW IN THEIR BELLY SO THEY CAN SEE WHERE THEIR GOING. i AM WILLING TO OFFER MY SERVICES TO THE POLICE DEPT AND PROSICUTORS OFFICE. LOOKS LIKE THEY ALL HAVE A BAD CASE OF OCULAR RECTAL LITAS.

     

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  40.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 7:56pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    If you read the article, it's suspected that the person who made the video is a police officer.

    That police officer is out there risking his or her life day after day, and here you are criticizing them.

    How dare you, sir? HOW DARE YOU?!

    You should be locked away for your disrespect to a uniformed officer of the law

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    Dave, Aug 5th, 2011 @ 9:08pm

    Re: Re: I hope he covered his tracks

    Oh, I totally agree that Google couldn't do much here but comply. I guess this is another case of the importance of pseudonymity.

     

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  42.  
    identicon
    marduk191, Aug 6th, 2011 @ 12:09am

    Unconstitutional bullshit like this happens all the time with fuckhead cops. That's why everyone hates cops now. They are all pieces of shit that abuse their power and just beat and kill anyone who doesn't go along with their plans. Fuck I hate this country more and more every day....

     

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  43.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Aug 6th, 2011 @ 1:10am

    I'm not that Anonymous, I registered and everything Mike.

    With luck the Streisand Effect will kick into high gear in this town and the people might have to question what really is happening there.

    They were embarrassed, and it seems they have alot to be embarrassed about and they keep adding to the pile.

    The truly sad thing is, no matter how many of these types of cases that get reported, there is always someone with power who thinks they will never make the same mistake and do the same things.

     

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  44.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2011 @ 1:20am

    Re: I hope he covered his tracks

    Unless the feds get involved, the local police will have a hard time thwarting even the weakest attempts at anonymity. I hope the guy was smart.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2011 @ 3:23am

    There are still good cops out there...

    ...it's too bad that they're the ones who get killed or fired.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    identicon
    CommercialFisherman, Aug 6th, 2011 @ 8:39am

    Re:

    Love to see what you think you can do about it, pig!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    icon
    Tom Landry (profile), Aug 6th, 2011 @ 10:56am

    There is something about that robotic text-to-speech that makes glib lines exceptionally hilarious. There are much more advanced T2S apps now but they dont seem to work as well (comedic-ly speaking) as the old style.

     

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  48.  
    icon
    Thomas (profile), Aug 7th, 2011 @ 8:29am

    Typical...

    of the corrupt cops we have in this country. They arrest people for videotaping officers cause they don't want evidence of , for example, cops beating an unresisting person. They want to avoid another Rodney King incident by merely outlawing videos showing a brutal beatdown.

    And of course the video will generate a lot of criticism of the police, which they seem to deserve.

    It's a mark of corrupt cops that they cannot tolerate anyone photographing or videotaping them or mocking them. Maybe the cops there should just change their name to Renton Gestapo.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 7th, 2011 @ 11:06am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    If you must feed the trolls there must be some hungry lions to feed them to.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50.  
    icon
    Any Mouse (profile), Aug 7th, 2011 @ 4:11pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Wait, what? 'What is coming to you'? Either you are doing some serious sarcasm, or you're in serious need of some psychiatric help, as that comment borders on the psychotic.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  51.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 12:16am

    Re:

    I'm not that Anonymous, I registered and everything Mike.


    Someone else, who was actually anon, submitted it first.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  52.  
    icon
    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 10:57am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Accountabililty

    I'm waiting for them. They will get quite a surprise when they do. A very, very nasty surprise, for sure.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  53.  
    icon
    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 11:01am

    Re: Re: Re: well

    Because he's an incurable douche bag?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  54.  
    icon
    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 11:02am

    Re: ANOMOUS

    Drunk again, are ye?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  55.  
    icon
    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 11:03am

    Re: CROOKED COPS

    Unhand that bottle!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  56.  
    icon
    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 11:05am

    Re: Typical...

    I thought I smelled bacon out there somewhere? Or was it spare ribs?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  57.  
    identicon
    Mas Parjono, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 11:53pm

    It also causes hugely more defamation and embarrassment than the videos and so is far closer to actual harassment.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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