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]

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Comments on “Police Raid Apartment, Seize Electronics Related To A Long-Suspended Twitter Account Parodying Town's Mayor”

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41 Comments
Quixote (profile) says:

Re: Nothing new here; satire has already been criminalized in the United States

There?s actually nothing surprising about Twitter parodists being viciously tracked down by the police, because if we don?t speak up for everybody?s rights, we better be ready for our own rights to be trampled on when we least expect it. It starts with criminalizing deadpan satire in the form of ?Gmail confessions,? intended to embarrass or ?injure? a well-connected academic department chairman, and from there it moves to criminalizing Twitter parodies intended to ?injure? a city mayor. See the documentation of America?s leading criminal-satire case at:

http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

and consider, in particular, the NACDL?s statement that if certain individuals ?feel aggrieved by online speech with academic value, they have remedies in tort,? rather than in criminal courts.

http://raphaelgolbtrial.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/raphael-golb-amicus-brief.pdf

Further, note that the Peoria chief of police ?said the intent of the account was not clearly satirical. ‘I don?t agree it was obvious, and in fact it appears that someone went to great lengths to make it appear it was actually from the mayor,’ he said.? This argument was first employed precisely in the New York ?Gmail confession? case. That case, despite being widely reported on in the press, has been largely ignored by legal commentators, so it?s not at all surprising that the police now feel free to go after the creators of satirical Twitter accounts embarrassing to wealthy and powerful members of the community, whether they be politicians, university presidents, or anyone else ordinary people might choose to mimic and mock on the Internet.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

And nothing happened to the people who abused the law.

Sorry just using my crystal ball to look ahead.

Everything will be found perfectly okay, and people will continue to vote for those in charge because change means fear.

Even if this time something does stick to the police who abused their powers, some board answerable to no one will undo any actual punishment and give them a post-paid vacation and put them back on the streets.

This is how the country works, and until the citizens actually decide it is unacceptable and find the will to change it… well they should just watch their backs if they decide to dare speak an unkind word about their fearless glorious leader who seems to have a really thin skin.

Pity we spend so much time playing private security force for corporations instead of enforcing the laws that are meant to apply to everyone, not just the serfs who blindly pull a lever to reelect the ass with the best soundbites.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Every time it’s election time and I see one of those “Vote! VOTE! VOTE!!!!!!!!!” ads, I feel sick, because I know that 95% of the general public will vote because they feel they HAVE to, pay basically zero attention to who they’re voting for, and end up electing yet another batch of power-tripping dictator wannabes.

Someone should run a “DON’T VOTE! (unless you’re willing to spend days researching candidates)” ad campaign instead.

mcinsand (profile) says:

Re: Re: sadly, what many deserve

Unfortunately, especially in our culture, the public will devote time paying attention to sports figures, musicians, and movie stars instead of to people making decisions that will actually affect the average voter’s life. If our government officials just got a tiny fraction of the attention invested in American Idol, people like the Peoria mayor wouldn’t have a prayer in the next election.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Politics is a zero sum game.
They have trained everyone to accept that it is all black & white.
If you don’t want to pay for crack babies to be aborted, you have to support this guy.
If you don’t want welfare for corporations, you have to support this guy.

People vote on single issues, and damn looking at anything else.
Perhaps maybe just a simple campagin asking, how is this working out for you?
It doesn’t matter who you vote for in the end, they care about their coffers not constituents. Many of them leave office much richer than when they started, and those they are supposed to represent much poorer.

Maybe if we worried less about taking control of a womans uterus, and more about billions being funneled into programs that do nothing while cuts are made to programs that might help those babies they demanded be born…

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

You’re missing the point of what government is for; they are OUR SERVANTS, and their job is to run the state in OUR interests, not theirs. That’s why they’re called “Representatives.”

We’ve abnegated our responsibilities to keep an eye on them and make sure they’re fit for purpose before voting them in. That’s why we’re in “a mess.”

We’ve permitted corporations to proliferate and about six of them to own and run the bulk of our mass media. Result: we believe what we’re told when we use the outlets provided by those six corporations as primary sources of information. That’s why we believe there are only “two choices.”

Finally, few of us appear to be checking out the astroturf alleged anarchist websites, think tanks, and other organizations to find out who provides funding for them. I can tell you for a fact that the Koch brothers fund or contribute to the funds of Libertarian/anarcho-capitalist ones. I daresay they’re not the only ones.

The aim of the game is to divide us and distract us from holding our representatives accountable. Don’t fall for it. And don’t let pretentious sanctimonious framing convince you to give up your rights as a citizen or sell the rest of us out to a culturally, intellectually and morally bankrupt system in which it’s every man for himself. That’s not a world I want to live in.

Mayor Ardis says:

Suck It

Fuck all you motherfuckers. I am the law in Peoria!! I don’t give a damn if I preside over the biggest shithole in the state… NO ONE disrespects me!!!

If I hear one more word from any of you assholes, I’ll subpoena your records from Techdirt and extradite your sorry ass to Peoria where you’ll meet justice.

Anonymous Coward says:

you have tyo look a lot higher up the tree to see where this sort of thing originates. try the very top person in the country, the security and law enforcement forces, the entertainment industries ties with people in the aforementioned places against people who it doesn’t like, the phone companies and broadcasting companies opposing start ups and all manner of things moving down the line. everyone knows someone higher up the tree who will ‘do favors’ for people just to keep things how they want them and prevent anything being threats. what has gone on here is just small potatoes compared to other cases, but the bribery and corruption has to start somewhere!!

Kaye Walter says:

Since “trill” could be a metaphor for “thrill kill with an AK-47” then if Mayor Ardis had written this he would have to see a psychologist before he could return to work, which we all know he would fail. Therefore Ardis has clearly been defamed by drug users and must get warrants issued to seize all items of value those vile miscreants.

Jim Ardis (user link) says:

I AM THE LAWWWW!

It is I, Jim Ardis, Mayor of Peoria, IL.
Dear Commoners, You are reminded that the internet is no place for satire! I swear to God, each and every one of you will rot in prison! My crack team of police officers down at the Internet Crimes Division in Peoria, have opened an active investigation into every defamatory comment left on this article. I AM THE LAWWWW!!

Annonimus says:

“Really? “Great lengths?” How many Twitter users would have believed the following was issued by the Mayor or his office?

I am trill as fuck”

Before or after Rob Ford became a famous mayor? I take it Ford’s fame is also the reason most mayoral parody accounts state they are parody accounts just so people don’t confuse parody with real life imitating parody.

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