Emails Show Peoria Police Knew There Was No Legal Basis To Pursue Twitter User Who Parodied Mayor Jim Ardis [Updated]

from the but,-you-know,-whatever-it-takes-to-keep-the-mayor-happy dept

Thanks to FOIA requests, more information has been uncovered about Peoria, IL mayor Jim Ardis’ quest to shut down a parody Twitter account. Shawn Musgrave at Muckrock has secured copies of the warrants and police reports related to the Peoria Police Dept.’s raid of Jon Daniel, the person behind the not-even-illegal @peoriamayor Twitter account. Matt Buedel at the Peoria Journal-Star has obtained email correspondence between the mayor and the police department.

Justin Glawe at Vice has more details, including the fact that Mayor Ardis and his office pushed hard to prosecute the owner of this Twitter account despite there being no evidence that any laws had been broken.

Ardis and others learned of the account on March 11 and sent dozens of emails over the next few days, apparently panicked by the idea that someone with a few dozen Twitter followers was making fun of the mayor. On March 12, Ardis himself asked City Manager Patrick Urich, “Any chance we can put a sense of urgency on this?” Urich passed that request on to Settingsgaard, saying, “Quickly please.”

Ardis (and his office) pursued this vigorously, telling the Chief of Police (Steve Settingsgaard) that he definitely wanted to prosecute. The first of three search warrants went out March 13th, at which point the Twitter account had already been marked as a parody. Twitter informed the city of this fact, but the push went on regardless. Twitter yanked the account on March 20th, but that still didn’t stop Ardis from pushing a very compliant police department into raiding Daniel’s home on April 15th.

Glawe points out that, according to obtained emails, the police were initially reluctant to pursue this as they could see no evidence of any laws being broken, at least according to an email sent by Chief Settingsgaard to Mayor Ardis on March 11th.

Mayor/Manager, I reviewed this matter with Detective Feehan. He is in the process of shutting down the account as you saw from my last email. This phony Twitter account does not constitute a criminal violation in that no threats are made. I’m not sure if it would support a civil suit for defamation of character. I’m not an expert in the civil arena but my recollection is that public officials have very limited protection from defamation. I asked (Feehan) about identity theft and he advised it did not qualify because the statute requires the use of personal identifying information such as a social security number, DOB, etc., and a financial gain form (sic) the use of that information. Twitter does not require identifying information other than an email address and name, and there appears to be no financial gain.

Detective Feehan followed this up with his own email, again confirming that Daniel appeared to have broken no laws with his parody account, as well as pointing out he had asked for Twitter to remove the account.

But Detective Feehan, being the detective he is, dug around in Illinois law until he found the state’s “false personification” statute and used this to pursue the owner of the account. The Peoria Police were able to push this past local judges with a very expansive warrant, which also contained claims that the occupants of the house were likely involved in some very nasty criminal activity.

In his search warrant affidavit, detective Stevie Hughes wrote that there was “probable cause to believe” that the seized data would contain “evidence, fruits, contraband, and instrumentalities of the dissemination and possession of child pornography.”

This, along with a claim that the house would be full of drug paraphernalia related to “cocaine and heroin” use, was used to justify the seizure of nearly every electronic device in the house.

Post-backlash, the district attorney (whose office played a big part in crafting the three warrants used in this case) announced that no charges would be filed in relation to the Twitter account. That doesn’t do much to help Daniel’s friend, who is still facing drug charges for possession of marijuana thanks to the Peoria police’s willingness to help Mayor Ardis violate others’ First Amendment rights.

Glawe’s personal blog contains even more information about this debacle, including an email interview with Chief Settingsgaard (where he claims — using some doublespeak — that Mayor Ardis was “not aware” of the search warrants in advance), and more details about the city council meeting that followed the story becoming national news.

April Clemons, who was one of several to speak in the public comments portion of a meeting that stretched nearly to 11 p.m., told Mayor Jim Ardis she is the “proud owner of a new Jim Ardis parody account.”

Clemons then told Ardis he “screwed up.” Near the end of her comments, Clemons turned to Chief of Police Steve Settingsgaard and told him the same.

For his part, Chief Settingsgaard defended his actions, along with the actions of his officers, saying he was not a “jack-booted thug” and that he was “pleasantly surprised” that only four officers served the warrant at Daniel’s residence (contrary to earlier reports of seven officers being involved). “Normally, there’s more.”

Mayor Ardis, after defending his actions by claiming that a.) the existence of a parody Twitter account took away his free speech rights, and b.) that it was the media’s fault that he looked like a thin-skinned, power-abusing ass, has remained completely silent about the incident. Perhaps this has been prompted by the city’s lawyers, who realize they may soon be on the receiving end of civil rights lawsuits because of the police department’s actions.

Update: the ACLU of Illinois has announced that it will be representing Jon Daniel in a civil rights lawsuit against the city officials.

The ACLU of Illinois now represents Mr. Daniel, the creator of the Twitter parody. Mr. Daniel, like other parodists, has a First Amendment right to post these tweets. He was engaging in a time-honored tradition of poking fun at public officials — even when the public official doesn’t like it. Because Mr. Daniel’s activities were protected, they should never have led to a warrant and search of his home. The police activity in this case was unnecessary and contrary to both the First and Fourth Amendment protections to which he was entitled.

In the coming weeks, the ACLU of Illinois anticipates bringing legal action in support of Mr. Daniel against those officials who are responsible for the violations of his rights. We hope this action will send a strong signal to all that wrongful use of the police power to suppress protected speech, even when it is critical or makes fun of public officials is an abuse of power and is not acceptable.

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Comments on “Emails Show Peoria Police Knew There Was No Legal Basis To Pursue Twitter User Who Parodied Mayor Jim Ardis [Updated]”

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Anonymous Coward says:

“dissemination and possession of child pornography”

That statement is why I no longer believe accusations of child porn or sexual assault when the police level them against anyone.

They will use that go to statement when there is no evidence of it and have watered it down to the point of it having no meaning for others anymore.

What a slimy Mayor.

David says:

Re: Re:

“dissemination and possession of child pornography”

That statement is why I no longer believe accusations of child porn or sexual assault when the police level them against anyone.

I am pretty sure that there will be people with pictures of naked children stashed away in their memories in this household. It’s sort of hard to change diapers without looking.

All that is needed to assess the imagery those people maliciously remember is a solid bout of torture.

If this sounds excessive to you, you are not an American.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

uh huh…
got one of my sister when she was 1-2 and nekkid as a jay bird, it is a ‘funny’ picture of her wearing grandpa’s boots and looking at his newspaper…
but i guess its kiddie pron…
got one of myself at a similar age, looking like a little fat, nekkid, baby buddah plopped down in a clothesbasket…
more kiddie pron…

dog damn i hate this world…
or, rather, i hate a LOT of the idiot nekkid apes on it…

and people wonder why i prefer dogs over nekkid apes…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Just as long as they’re not stashed away on the hard drive. People, please learn what removable media is for! USBs are cheap, can hold the same amount of data as about 9 CDs, and are a heck of a lot more easily hidden than stacks of discs.

For information purposes only. I disavow any further connection with this post or how the information maybe used.

Beta (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Don’t forget this part:

In his search warrant affidavit, detective Stevie Hughes wrote that there was ?probable cause to believe? [things for which there was never a shred of evidence].

Although a perjury charge is unlikely, I would pay good money to see Detective Hughes squirm on the witness stand in a civil case. And if there were any logic in the system, no affidavit by Hughes would ever make it past a judge’s wastebasket again.

Lurker Keith says:

It should be a Law...

It should be a Law that ALL Public Officials know what the Law is, what the limits of their authority are, & what the Rights of the Citizens are.

Furthermore, abuse of their authority, violation of Citizens Rights, or ignorance of the Law should be grounds for a new Election, which the current official cannot run again in w/o at least a test of his understanding of the above… If he passes the test, he has shown he was aware of his wrong doing & that it was willful/ malicious & should then be arrested.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: It should be a Law...

In this case Morton’s Fork SHOULD apply!

This is not a case where a person assuming responsibility should be able to disregard that responsibility due to ignorance. Here we really do need to make the application of “You are either incompetent or willfully abusive with your authority” and this test will tell us which one you are. Their wrong doing is not really at question, what is at question is what lead to the wrong doing, corruption or incompetence. The reason for having this high standard is because anyone in this position should have already known, and in regards to ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’ tell me how and officer should be relieved of the very responsibility they consistently burden the public with?

And in all truth, intentionally failing the test would get the dumb-ass off on incompetence so is really a back door out with less problems. Getting rid of a dumb-ass without punishment usually works for most. But most will want to see an abusive person get punishment not just removed.

John Cressman (profile) says:

Execute them all

I like the comment above, about it being required to know the law to become an official. I suggest a 1000 question test (random questions of course from a pool of say…10000).

That would serve TWO purposes… first, it would make sure the person knows the laws. Second, it would encourage the removal of idiotic old laws… like you can’t ride your horse down main street on a Sunday.

But you need to take it a step further. Officials found violating the rights of citizens should be executed for treason. Abusing the power granted to you by the people of your country, state, district or local area should be a high crime.

THEN, let’s see who runs for office, let alone starts abusing power.

They might not learn their lesson the first time, but …well… there is no second time.

beltorak (profile) says:

Re: Execute them all

I agree that is should be a high crime; I do not agree that it should be considered treason (for which the constitution already delineates the boundaries), and I do not agree that it should result in execution. I believe execution should be a last resort, when we, as a people, fail to find a way to deal with very troublesome people. Serial killers that show no remorse and a willingness to continue killing, for example. But it’s not really a punishment in any logical sense of the word. Killing someone does not punish them any more than turning your computer off punishes a malware infestation.

I propose therefore a punishment that fits the crime. Revocation of citizenship and indefinite detainment. Make attaining citizenship and subsequent release dependent on graduating from an accredited law college specializing in the field of law that was most abused. (Probably should base it off credit hours relevant to the field of law instead of attaining a degree.) Second offenses cannot be redeemed from.

Of course, this might have the effect of putting greater numbers of … morally flexible law practitioners in the field.

LegalIssues says:

Problems with the Test Approach

For everyone saying that officials should have to pass a test to prove competence in the law, there are several problems with that approach. (before I begin let me clarify that I fully believe that, if everything here is true, this mayor is a complete asshat who deserves all the bad publicity he is now getting).

1. The law is subject to interpretation. A law can say one thing, and mean something different. For example, in antitrust law, the Sherman Act bans any contract, combination, or conspiracy in the restraint of trade. This simple statement would ban all contracts, combinations, or conspiracies as they all restrain trade to some degree. For example, when I contract to sell my house to you, I am agreeing not to sell it to anyone else. Therefore, there we are contracting to restrain the trade of my house to only you. The Sherman act must mean something different than the exact text therefore in order to be enforceable. As a result, we have judicial interpretation which suggests that the language actually prohibits “unreasonable restraints on trade.”

We pay lawyers to argue the meaning of the law, and to argue for the limitation, repeal, and change of the law.

2. The law is subject to change. This is especially true when you attempt to quiz legislators and other lawmakers about the law. They could pass the test today, but the law could be different tomorrow.

3. Testing on the law would likely result in only one group of people, lawyers, being able to be lawmakers and public servants as understanding the law almost necessitates a law degree.

I am not suggesting that it is unreasonable for the mayor and police chief to understand the law, but testing in this instance is simply not feasible. Further, if all that is said in this article is true, the evidence is that the chief and detectives knew the law, and chose to ignore it based upon the mayor’s wishes.

Lurker Keith says:

Re: Problems with the Test Approach

I’m the one who brought up the test, but in a different context.

I was INTENTIONALLY invoking Morton’s Fork (as someone picked up on). My thought was kick someone abusing his Office or not serving the Citizens out & if he has the balls to want to run again, force him to take a test to determine if the violation was due to incompetence or intentional (the test can be written in such a way as to determine if they’re correctly interpreting the Law). If he doesn’t ace the test (on purpose or otherwise) he’s banned from office for not knowing the Law/ incompetence; if, however, he’s stupid enough to pass the test, proving he did know what he was doing, he should be arrested for Malicious Abuse of his Powers.

In my approach, the test doesn’t get him into office; in fact, I was thinking anyone could run, but once they’re in they have to learn the Laws (I’d even be willing to permit a crib notes style of notebook or something), & if an instance comes up that they either appear not to know the Law or were abusing their position, they’re out.

Also, nothing in what I said means the test has to be the only determining factor for criminal charges. If there’s sufficient evidence, take him to court… passing the test is just a nail in the coffin.

Androgynous Cowherd says:

Marijuana charge should be dropped

I can’t see how the marijuana charge could possibly survive a fair trial. Since the warrant was issued based on a false affidavit, it’s invalid, which makes the marijuana “fruit of the poisonous tree”. The state’s evidence in that case should therefore be suppressed at any trial, and without it they’ve got nothing.

Just Another Anonymous Troll says:

I would just like to point out that Ardis claimed that the twitter account was impersonation because the tweets were written in a similar fashion to his. Meanwhile, the account was posting tweets claiming it was “trill as f**k”.
We can come to 2 conclusions here: (Morton’s fork!)
1. Jim Ardis simply cannot take criticism at all, being thin-skinned to the point in which a papercut could be lethal, and uses his cops to censor his foes.
2. Jim Ardis regularly posts tweets bearing some similarity to “trill as f**k”, in which case he needs to take a drug test.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

There are three main possibilities:

1) The judge issued the warrant without probable cause. In this case, the judge needs to be removed from office. It’s intolerable for judges to do this.

2) The judge issued the warrant because he believed there was probable cause based on a false affidavit. In this case, the officer swearing the affidavit should be charged with perjury and the drug charges should be thrown out.

3) The judge issued the warrant because there was actual probable cause to indicate there was child pornography, which merely turned out to be not true. (Some properly issued warrants are not going to turn up evidence; you don’t need proof beyond a reasonable doubt to get one, only probable cause.) In this case, the drug charges should stand. (I really have my doubts that this was the case.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Being a public figure requires a higher bar for defamation was the point I was making on the first post of this incident where I stated:

Mayor Ardis is a friggin’ public figure. Claiming defamation takes a higher bar to reach than a private person. We don’t even have to talk parody here.

The other point I was at the time making was:

This would be laughed out of court anywhere a kangaroo court isn’t set up.

Mayor Ardis’s thin skin is the whole issue here and his ability to use his political force to get what he wants.

Looks like I nailed that one.

April Crotts says:

Petition to free Jake Elliott

Please consider signing and sharing this pet ion asking the State?s Attorney to drop the charges against Jake Ellliott, arrested in the Jim Ardis, Peoria, IL Twitter Raid.

wallyb132 (profile) says:

What about his friend

This may have been answered in previous comments (I didn’t bother to read them all), but:

What about his friend, who is facing marijuana charges now because of all of this, do those charges get dropped once its determined that the warrants used to search the house were illegal?

I mean seriously, does this guy get to file a civil right complaint while his friend just gets fucked for being in the wrong place at the wrong time during an illegal police raid, or does he have standing in the civil rights complaint too? Because if it was an illegal search for the home, then certainly it was an illegal search of the friend too

Bruce Dixon says:

Mayor Jim Ardis and Jon Daniel

C’mon, folks. You keep calling what Daniel did as “parody.” It was not…it was mean-spirited fiction bearing no relationship to Mayor Ardis’s personality or actions. It’s an abuse of free speech, so all you self-righteous whiners should back off. That includes the ACLU. In any case, don’t call what that childish tweeter did as “parody.” Want to see real parody? Check out the Onion’s current take-off on Eric Cantor. It’s the real thing.

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