Judge Says Raid On Twitter User Perfectly Fine Because Officers Can Enforce Non-Existent Laws Provided They Have 'Probable Cause'
from the in-the-weeds-finding-some-weed dept
There’s been an update of sorts in the Peoria Mayor v. Twitter Parody fiasco, although reading the headlines attached to most of these articles tells a much different story than what’s actually contained in the body. This has nothing to do with the parody account owner’s (Jon Daniel) lawsuit against the city [pdf], filed with the assistance of the ACLU. (Many headlines actually lead with this, as though the filing of the lawsuit didn’t actually happen over a month ago.)
Judge Thomas Keith ruled that police had probable cause to perform the raid at Daniel’s residence — which also netted his roommate, Jacob Elliott, with felony drug possession charges when marijuana and paraphernalia were discovered. And it’s Elliott who’s actually in court seeking to have charges dismissed and the warrant invalidated.
The argument against the warrant itself is solid. FOIAed emails show internal discussions between the Peoria PD and the Mayor’s office, one of which includes the Chief of Police himself saying there are no laws being broken.
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.
Shortly after the raid and the ensuing debacle, the prosecutor dropped the (admittedly) bogus charges against Daniel.
Peoria County State’s Attorney Jerry Brady decided the offender must commit false personation in person. Using that reasoning, he didn’t charge Jon Daniel, the creator of the parody account, who also lived at the house.
This is the argument being used by Elliott’s legal rep. If no crime was committed — and the statute used to secure the warrant not applicable — then the warrant should be thrown out, along with anything discovered during the raid.
But the judge doesn’t see it that way. He says the police had “probable cause,” even if the probable cause was (to put it nicely) misinformed.
Keith’s ruling means police had to reasonably think they would find items related to the parody Twitter account such as phones, flash drives, computers or similar things in Elliott’s bed or closet.
This is stuff the police did find. But the officers also looked under Elliott’s pillows and in his closet. Judge Keith still wants them to answer for that.
Peoria police officers will testify Oct. 8 to explain why they looked under Elliott’s pillow and in a closet in his room, where police said they found the drugs in a gift bag.
As for the underlying cause being premised on a law that didn’t say what police (and Mayor Ardis) wanted it to say, Judge Keith is less decisive.
Elliott’s attorney, Dan O’Day, sought to have the warrant declared invalid, arguing that police made a mistake and that anything found in the house should be thrown out of court.
Keith said he couldn’t make such a finding. He said the law was vague, and there was no case law that could guide judges on what legislators meant when they wrote the law.
But the prosecutor could make that decision, without the intercession of legislators or case law. He simply found that the law did not apply to Daniel’s Twitter account and dropped the charges. Keith seems to be unable to wrap his mind around the fact that a warrant served to seize items and detain someone for not committing a crime is inherently flawed. That this was all uncovered after the raid took place does not excuse actions directed and led by a police chief and detective who admitted in emails that they knew the law didn’t apply.
The “probable cause” was bogus from the start. The officers’ actions in Elliott’s bedroom aren’t relevant because the whole search was a farce predicated on a deliberate misreading of a statute. The warrant may as well have stated it was seeking evidence of “harboring office supplies” or “manufacturing sandwiches without a license” for all the legal force it actually had behind it. While the warrant application lists “cocaine, heroin and drug paraphernalia” as things “reasonably” believed to be on the premises (no specific mention of marijuana or any other drugs, however), the statute clearly stated as the motivating force is False Personation, which doesn’t cover Jon Daniel’s Twitter account.
The police went after a Twitter account holder who had violated no laws and netted themselves a drug bust. The fact is, the police had no right to enter the premises in the first place and certainly shouldn’t benefit from items seized that had nothing to do with the electronics (or other items) specified in the warrant application.