Tweeters Were Criminally Charged For The Crime Of Trying To Identify A Police Officer… Who The Police Revealed In The Charging Docs

from the that's-DETECTIVE-'This-Bitch,'-mister dept

The Nutley, New Jersey Police Department fears for the safety of its officer. It fears so much it tried to bring criminal charges against people who retweeted a tweet asking Twitter users to identify an officer who was policing a protest. Georgana Sziszak is one of the five people charged for interacting with the tweet, as Adi Robertson reports for The Verge.

The Nutley Police Department filed its complaints in late July over a tweet posted during a June 26th protest. The now-deleted message included a photo of a masked on-duty police officer with a request that “If anyone knows who this bitch is throw his info under this tweet.” Because of the mask, the officer is not readily identifiable from the photograph, and there do not appear to be any replies revealing his identity.

The original poster and the retweeters are charged with cyber harassment, a fourth-degree felony punishable by up to 18 months in jail. Activist Georgana Sziszak, one of the retweeters, revealed the complaint in a GoFundMe campaign last week.

The original poster didn’t find any takers for their request for the identity of the masked officer. The Nutley PD has, however, doxed its own officer by filing this criminal complaint. Here’s the tweet — since deleted — asking for the officer’s identity:

If you can’t read/see the tweet, it says:

If anyone knows who this bitch is throw his info under this tweet

The Nutley PD knows who “this bitch” is and has provided all the info the original tweet was seeking:

The department charged Sziszak and others on behalf of Detective Peter Sandomenico, who the complaint identifies as the officer in the tweet. It alleges that the photo and accompanying caption threatened the officer “acting in the performance of his duties, causing Detective Sandomenico to fear that harm will come to himself, family, and property.”

Yes, it’s decorated officer Peter Sandomenico — an officer whose salary is 884% higher than the median salary in the town he serves. Sandomenico was once honored by the department for “going above and beyond” and was photographed receiving this really vague commendation. He was also photographed twice for NJ Cops Magazine, where he attended a ceremony honoring Nutley’s “Police Officer of the Year.” Sandomenico is a state delegate for his police union.

Like far too many officers around the nation, Peter “PJ” Sandomenico appears to have removed anything identifying him personally while working at the protest in Nutley. This sort of thing never plays well with the public, which often responds by crowdsourcing officer info — not necessarily to harass officers but to let officers know their efforts to dodge accountability have been undone.

Of course, after this story started getting attention, the Essex County Prosecutor’s office announced it was dropping the charges with a weak excuse:

The prosecutor?s office confirmed the five people who were charged and told the Asbury Park Press on Friday that ?we concluded there was insufficient evidence to sustain our burden of proof.?

Even though the charges were dropped, this was still a blatant attack on the 1st Amendment rights of protesters — many of whom may now be scared off from documenting law enforcement activities during these protests out of fear of facing a similar nuisance fight.

The First Amendment protects the right to photograph on-duty officers. It also protects the speech that accompanied the tweeted photo, which only asked for someone to identify the cop, not to encourage violence against the officer. The imagined parade of horrors springing from the identification of Detective Peter “PJ” Sandomenico belongs solely to the minds at the Nutley Police Department, which provided info that the five charged Twitter users failed to dig up. Great job, guys! Perhaps the PD will again be cited for going above and beyond by violating the Constitution to protect an unidentified officer the PD decided to identify on its own. Presumably when the PD does it, it results in less fear for Sandomenico’s safety.

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Comments on “Tweeters Were Criminally Charged For The Crime Of Trying To Identify A Police Officer… Who The Police Revealed In The Charging Docs”

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19 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
David says:

So much about the crime of identifying the police officer

At least the department had the decency to end the crime of not identifying the police officer. While some power-greedy autocrats would love to have a secret police unaccountable to anybody, it does not seem a good fit with the constitutional history of the United States.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: A secret police unaccountable to anybody

For that you need to look no further than the Federal Bureau of Investigation, though the Department of Homeland Security is the Secret Police on a special coke / steroids / cordite / antihistamine blend.

The sooner it becomes common knowledge that the rule of law is dead in the United States, the sooner we can work to change that.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

If you won't do it the public will

Here’s a though: If you don’t like the public trying to figure out exactly who a particular cop is maybe consider having some sort of identifying mark on the uniform.

Maybe, oh I dunno, clearly visible names and/or clearly visible numbers tied to a particular officer, something like that? Because by removing any such marks they’re sending a very clear message that people who theoretically serve the public and are being paid by the public plan on engaging in activity that the public would not approve of and are taking steps to avoid accountability, leaving it up to the public to tied names and faces to actions.

Vidiot (profile) says:

Helps, too, to know a little about the town of Nutley. It’s been an upper-middle haven since the 19th century… tree lined streets… long ago, heavily German-American but almost exclusively Italian-American for 50 or 75 years. Planning on taking a northern NJ Sopranos tour? You’ll wind up in Nutley; that’s where character Christopher Moltisanti shot up the bakery staff when he couldn’t get his sfogliatella quickly enough.

For decades, one Italian-American family owned the local newspaper and occupied the mayor’s office; the library board is run by decree by a 90+-year-old capo. You get the idea – the connectedness helps keep the town pure and unsullied (wink, wink), and the locals like it that way.

Not surprising that the PD would take umbrage at someone making such an out-of-line request targeting goomba officer PJ. And the requester is lucky that the response was only a threatened indictment, and not a horse’s head.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Don’t worry the real reason for the lawsuit was to reveal the people who targetted the officer in the first place. Extrajudicial actions will take place against them over the next few weeks to teach them the error of their ways of questioning their proper place in society. When the drugs that were planted on them turn up in the follow-up investigation, no one will question why they ended up with so many injuries.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

It's time to start a nonprofit or three...

…that track human beings who are employed in the justice and state security sectors, and when they’ve done unconscionable things.

Even if we don’t act on them right now, we’re going to want evidence when there are Nuremberg trials. It also might be worth it to talk to the few good apples that remain into taking up a career in horticulture.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

HOW many levels of fail there?

1) The Nutley PD being such a bunch of nutbags one of their publicly accountable law enforcement officials being identified is cause for hysterical panic.

2) …by such reaction confirming to the public that their perception of themselves is as a secret police…

3) …and said panic then has them filing charges where officer Sandomenico is then named anyway.

"Police Academy" and the "Keystone Cops" just ran into Poes Law in a dark back alley. Will the Nutley PD for its next act put on a red nose, some floppy shoes, and start swinging around buckets and a ladder?

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