Peoria Mayor Continues To Defend Police Raid Of Twitter User's Home, Threatens To Sue For Defamation

from the at-rock-bottom-but-still-working-that-shovel dept

Peoria mayor Jim Ardis has responded to the ACLU’s announcement of its lawsuit against him (and several others) over the actions taken to shut down a parodic Twitter account. Ardis’ “press conference” was really nothing more than him reading a prepared statement and refusing to answer any questions.

His statement shovels blame on the media, complains about having his “identity stolen” and goes long on pointing out that the Twitter account (or “site,” as he prefers to call it) was not clearly marked as a parody at its inception. But the highlight by far is Mayor Ardis reading some of the tweets delivered by the account.

Ardis still seems to think he’s completely right, but nearly everything he states is wrong.

First off, while the account wasn’t marked as a parody when it first went live (March 9th), it had been by three days later (March 12th). Despite this, the mayor and the police continued their hunt of the account’s owner. This hunt continued even after they managed to convince Twitter to suspend the account (March 20th).

Ardis repeats the claim that the account wasn’t marked as a parody, as though that makes the entire month of police activity past the point of the account’s shutdown (and six weeks past the point the account was marked as a parody by Jon Daniel, the account’s owner) completely appropriate. Separately, while the lack of being marked as parody for three days may have violated Twitter’s terms of service, it has no real bearing on the fact that it’s protected speech. Mayor Ardis seems to think that unless something is marked as parody, it’s not parody. But the point that many people were making, was that anyone reading the crazy statements on the Twitter feed would recognize it as obvious parody for being so extreme. In fact, having Mayor Ardis read out some of the tweets only seems to confirm the point. What he thinks is so conclusive as evidence that he’s right, really only seems to prove the opposite: that the account was making statements so extreme and ridiculous that they were clearly parody, and not real.

Ardis also attacks the media for misrepresenting the facts. That’s very hard to do when you’re quoting police reports and police department/mayor’s office emails directly. Since day one, the media has portrayed this event as Mayor Jim Ardis abusing his power to shut down a Twitter account he didn’t like — a portrayal that is borne out by the documents obtained from public records requests.

He also claims the media is being hypocritical by claiming the account was harmless while simultaneously refusing to print the “offensive” content of the tweets. This is his stupidest assertion. A Twitter account that did nothing but tweet out repeated profanities would be harmless while still being something most journalistic entities wouldn’t print verbatim. Arbitrary standards for print are not legal standards for obscenity.

Either way, just because many people may find the account’s tweets highly distasteful (and probably wouldn’t retweet @grandma, etc.), it still doesn’t make the speech less protected or Mayor Jim Ardis any more “right” about pursuing the person behind the account. Once the account was marked as parody, such that it complied with Twitter’s terms of service, that should have been the end of it.

Justin Glawe, a Peoria native and friend of Jon Daniel who’s been covering this case for Vice since the beginning, says that emails and comments made by an unnamed city official hint that Mayor Ardis may have believed the supposedly obscene account might be linked with the Peoria Journal Star.

[A]ccording to a source inside City Hall, the officials who aggressively pursued Daniel, the creator of the account, were also wrong in a much more mundane way: They thought I was behind @peoriamayor and assumed I worked for the local paper, the Journal Star…

In an email that was released because of a Freedom of Information Act request, Ardis asked his subordinates what “JS reporter” lived with Daniel, and a police official said he didn’t know. If the source in City Hall is correct, Ardis was convinced that reporter was me, and likely thought that by exposing me as the foul-mouthed fiend behind @peoriamayor he’d ruin my reputation as a journalist and that of the Journal Star in the process.

This adds a bit more background to the mayor’s apparent disdain for the media. Glawe also points out that the braintrust behind the account shutdown not only seemed to have a poor grasp of the law (perhaps intentionally), but was also mystified by the technical aspects of dealing with an online social media platform.

At one point, some city officials and cops thought they could call Twitter to have @peoriamayor shut down, so it’s no surprise that they apparently couldn’t be bothered to google my name and find out who I was and whom I work for.

In related news, Peoria Police Chief Steve Stettingsgaard has stepped down to take a job with Caterpillar, Inc. While his entire tenure at the head of the PPD has been marked with controversy, there’s no doubt this latest incident played a part in convincing him to exit the law enforcement business.

Bizarrely, Mayor Ardis hints he’s looking at pursuing someone (Jon Daniel or possibly even Twitter itself) for “defamation,” apparently forgetting the email conversation he had with Chief Stettingsgaard back 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.

If Ardis decides to pursue this, he’ll just be adding to his list of highly-public debacles. His defensive press conference indicates he’s unable and unwilling to learn from his mistakes. There’s no case to be made here, especially if Ardis decides to go after Twitter itself for the actions of one of its users. But it appears Ardis has dignity to burn, even if most of it is riddled with self-inflicted wounds.

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Comments on “Peoria Mayor Continues To Defend Police Raid Of Twitter User's Home, Threatens To Sue For Defamation”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

He likely has consulted with his lawyers, who likely have advised him that there’s very little he can do with any chance of success, and his best option is to shut up, settle, and hope the whole thing blows over in time for the next election.

Jim Ardis’ problem is that he, like many criminals, is simply unable to follow the advice of his lawyers.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It’s not just a civil court he has to fear, either.

Since he accomplished his misdeeds using his authority as a public official acting under color of law, he has violated federal law as well.

While the feds are notoriously bad about prosecuting color of law violations of most rights, they have a somewhat better record of prosecuting violations of the first amendment.

Title 18, Chapter 13, Section 241 of the US Code makes it a crime punishable by ten years in prison for any two or more people, acting under color of law, to violate the constitutional, statutory or civil rights of any person within the national or territorial borders of the United States. It’s not just the mayor who could go to prison over this, it’s anyone who passed along or carried out his illegal orders.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

So since he reread the tweets himself, do they now become true statements? 😀

So what we have here is someone who is sure they know who the ‘bad actor’ is out to get them.
Even when the evidence doesn’t hold that up, they double down and keep going forward full steam.
Now move onto threatening a defamation suit to crush them for daring to oppose him.
(something something they kept claiming I had to be a lawyer)

The citizens of this town really need to look into a recall or removing his powers until he can be replaced by someone without thin skin and a god complex.
He is going to cost them even more money in his dogged pursuit of what he wants vs what reality allows.

He is so far removed from reality, can he actually manage the business of the city?

mcinsand (profile) says:

what does this say about the people in Peoria?

If there is any sort of published recall effort, I’ve missed it. Months have now gone by since their thug mayor’s antics have become not only public but publicly verified. I can see giving a few weeks for him to present his case, but, the more he presents, the worse he turns out to be.

What kind of people live in Peoria for there to be no concerted push to have this jerk thrown out? If you live in Peoria, please, speak up! My home city is characterized by clownish, jerkish councilmembers, and we’ve had a mayor or two to laugh at… but no-one has persecuted both the legal process and a citizen anything like Ardis.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: what does this say about the people in Peoria?

It doesn’t really say anything about the people. From what I’ve seen most of the people are simply embarrassed by their mayor’s behavior and have been criticizing him for it. Even the rest of the city council openly criticized him for it and said that he had made the city the butt of a national joke. This is one of the reasons he is so butthurt about this. He expected everyone to take his side and virtually no one has so he’s blaming the media. After all, he didn’t behave this way before he was elected so the people had no way of knowing. No one blames them. It’s all on him. However, if he runs again when his term is up and gets re-elected, that will be a completely different matter.

Internet Missionary says:

I agree this Ardis guy is despicable and deserves to be taken down in spectacular fashion for abusing his power. And I don’t think Daniels should be liable, all things considered. But, the suggestion at the end of the article that Daniels should escape liability for defamation because of the public figure doctrine seems to miss the point of that doctrine. Sure, public figures get less protection in that they must prove malicious intent (a high bar). But that might not be so hard given the nature of these tweets.

E says:

If it makes anybody feel better, leaving police service for “North American regional security director” is a huge step down. As an employee of Cat, I can tell you this makes him the rent-a-cop with the shiniest badge. They (thankfully) don’t even carry guns, they are just minimum wage security personnel.

He’s basically in charge of making sure the fire extinguishers get checked every month.

Anonymous Coward says:

Makes you wonder how many days it took for the parody tweets to be brought to his attention… and if it took three days or more one could assume accurately that when he finally became aware of, and figured out what that Twitter thing was…. if the account was already marked parody upon his first visit and viewing…. negating his only argument made during his press conference???

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