Police Raid Apartment, Seize Electronics Related To A Long-Suspended Twitter Account Parodying Town's Mayor
from the from-overkill-to-backfire-in-record-time dept
It doesn’t matter how you look at this situation. This is an abuse of power. No matter how much benefit of a doubt you give the protagonists — even if you cut the Peoria, IL police so much slack you’re both falling over backwards (to borrow a Sparks lyric) — this situation looks like the end result of an overly-close relationship between city politicians and local law enforcement. How else would you explain the following?
Illinois police seized computers and mobile phones while raiding a house whose owner was suspected of parodying the town mayor on Twitter.
In all, five people following the Tuesday evening raid were taken to the Peoria Police Department station for questioning, local media report.
The Twitter account, which had all of 50 followers, and had been already shut down by Twitter “weeks ago,” became the flash point for a police raid that involved seven plainclothes officers and the detainment of five people – two of whom were cuffed at their place of employment.
If the mayor felt there was something wrong with this “impersonation,” he had plenty of other options available that wouldn’t have resulted in this egregious show of force. For one, he could have contacted Twitter and asked for the account to be suspended. (And, for all we know, he did. [UPDATE: see below.] The account hadn’t been active for “weeks” by the time the raid took place.) Second, he could have pursued this through civil action (if he felt the account was defamatory, etc.). There was no reason to involve the police in this — unless, of course, this was the sort of thing the Peoria Police enjoy doing.
Justin Glawe at Vice has a followup on this story which highlights the Peoria Police Department’s shady misconduct record.
Peoria is a town of 116,000 people. It has some problems with crime and also some problems with the police, which you can get a sense of if you follow my work or the work of Matt Buedel, the Journal Star crime reporter who broke a several stories last year detailing misconduct within the police department, including an attempt to catch a city councilman in a prostitution sting. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office ruled that an internal report regarding some of those acts of alleged misconduct should be released, but the city and the police department refused. (That report was apparently “lost” by Settingsgaard, and somehow ended up in the hands of a panhandler who, coincidentally, I used to work at a gas station with and know to be a pretty serious drug addict.)
The prostitution sting involved 12 task force officers staking out a Red Roof Inn overnight in hopes of catching Dan Irving, a city council candidate, with a prostitute. This sting ran the day after a close primary election. (Irving went on to lose the general election.) The overnight stakeout was ultimately fruitless as Irving never arrived at the motel with or without a prostitute.
Evidence exists that the Peoria Police Department is willing to be politically motivated. These officers trashed rooms and grabbed every device with an internet connection (including some Xboxes), proclaiming they were linked to an “internet crime.” Although no one’s been charged yet (other than an unrelated marijuana possession charge — hooray for the fortuitous results of a bogus police search), the chief of the Peoria Police has dug deep enough into Illinois law to find something to use against the person running the long-suspended, inside joke of an account.
Peoria Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard said the department was investigating misdemeanor charges of impersonating a public official, which carries a maximum one-year jail term and $2,500 fine. The chief, according to the Southern Illinoisan, said it “appears that someone went to great lengths to make it appear it was actually from the mayor.”
Really? “Great lengths?” How many Twitter users would have believed the following was issued by the Mayor or his office?
Beyond that, the account bio was changed on March 10th to indicate the account was a parody. A couple of weeks later, it was suspended. Three weeks after that, Peoria police corral five people and their electronics in order to stop something that was already dead and never popular.
Now, news of this has spread nationwide, and as Justin Glawes points out, it has led to the generation of several more fake Peoria Mayor accounts. The colossally stupid effort has done little more than given the nation a reason to dig into the misdeeds of the Peoria Police and an indication of just how thin Mayor Ardis’ skin is.
UPDATE: Confirmed: Mayor Ardis was behind the raid. The search warrant obtained by Peoria’s Journal Star notes that Ardis approached the police department and told officials there he wanted to find out who was behind the Twitter account. He also told the PD he wished to pursue criminal charges. Warrants were also served to Comcast and Twitter in order to obtain additional information. [h/t to Jim Romenesko]