Man Arrested For Parodying Police Department's Facebook Page Sues City, PD Over Rights Violations

from the bullies-and-crybabies dept

Because an Ohio police department couldn't handle being (momentarily) mocked, it's now being sued by the man officers arrested after he created a spoof of the department's Facebook page.

Earlier this year, Anthony Novak parodied the Parma (OH) Police Department's Facebook page, posting obviously fake announcements from the faux department like the following:

The Parma Civil Service Commission will conduct a written exam for basic Police Officer for the City of Parma to establish an eligibility list. The exam will be held on March 12, 2016. Applications are available February 14, 2016, through March 2, 2016. Parma is an equal opportunity employer but is strongly encouraging minorities to not apply.

The test will consist of a 15 question multiple choice definition test followed by a hearing test. Should you pass you will be accepted as an officer of the Parma Police Department.

Other postings not quite as charming, but definitely as fake, included announcements of the PD's new roving abortion van, a "Pedophile Reform event," plans to arrest anyone caught outside between noon and 9 pm, and a ban on feeding the homeless to better serve the city's plan to eradicate the problem through starvation.

Novak did copy the department's logo and the Facebook page did look similar… right up until readers read the posts, or noticed the fake department's motto: "We No Crime."

Rather than leave this in Facebook's hands (or just leave it alone altogether), the Parma police decided to greet the situation head on. It came up with a charge to use to go after Novak: use of a computer to "disrupt, interrupt or impair" police services. Then it went after him, mustering far more force than would seem to be necessary to handle a bogus Facebook page. Jacob Sullum of Reason recaps the stupidity.

Parma police...launched an investigation that involved at least seven officers, a subpoena and three search warrants, and a raid on Novak's apartment, during which the cops surprised his roommate on the toilet and seized two hard drives, a laptop, two tablets, two cellphones, and two video game systems. After his arrest on March 25, Novak spent four days in jail before he got out on bail, and then he had to report weekly to a probation officer if he wanted to keep his freedom.

The charge was obviously bogus. Statements made in defense of the PD's actions mainly focused on the derogatory nature of the posts. But very little was said about how a Facebook page that was up for less than two days and gathered only 300 followers made it more difficult for the police to continue servicing the community. It would seem the diversion of seven officers to a stupid investigation with obvious Constitutional implications would be far more disruptive to public service.

While the Parma police obviously found a judge willing to overlook their extremely questionable assertions when signing warrants, it had no similar luck when attempting to prosecute Novak.

Someone in the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office evidently had second thoughts about the case, because Novak was offered a plea deal under which the felony charge would have been reduced to an unspecified misdemeanor. Novak turned the offer down, by that point eager to have his day in court. By the time his trial rolled around, prosecutors had settled on the theory that Novak's Facebook gag had disrupted police services by generating phone calls to the police department—a grand total of 10 in 12 hours. The jury did not buy it, and everyone who was involved in the case should have known better than to let it get that far.

The end result is a lawsuit [PDF], which will definitely impair the community's trust in the police department. Novak alleges First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations -- all stemming from the warrants issued to the PD which, if determined to be bogus, support his Fourth and Fourteenth claims. As for the First Amendment, Novak's parody page was protected speech and the Parma police had no business using their powers to shut it down, much less arrest the page's creator.

As for the PD's supporting affidavits, they appear incredibly weak according to what's documented in the lawsuit. There was more made about the content of the page being "derogatory" than about the supposed criminal activity Novak (obviously didn't) engage in: disruption of government services.

That being said, it will be tough to prevent immunity from being awarded to most, if not all, of the participants in this censorious travesty. Unless the Parma police have specific guidance or training that encourages them to trample all over citizens' First Amendment rights, it's unlikely the allegations will survive a motion to dismiss. Then again, the PD didn't just tread lightly on Novak's free speech -- it steamrolled him with a trumped-up felony charge, seizure of all of his devices, and jailed him for four days. The city may find it more expedient to settle this quickly than take the chance of Novak prevailing completely.

The Parma PD should have limited itself to informing particularly stupid/gullible citizens that the parody page wasn't the real thing. Then it should have left it alone. Instead, it leveraged its power to avenge its hurt feelings, resulting in a tantrum that could prove to be very expensive.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Sep 2016 @ 2:52pm

    Please post links to all upcoming Parma PD parody pages here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Norahc, 26 Sep 2016 @ 2:55pm

    Immunity

    Unfortunately, as long as police and the top brass believe they will enjoy immunity for their illegal activities, this type of disregard for citizen rights will continue unabated.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 26 Sep 2016 @ 3:11pm

      Re: Immunity

      Even if the immunity fails them, the bill is paid by someone else. There is no downside for the cops doing this, the unions & insane contract terms protect them and allow them to move to the next town to keep breaking the laws when they get butthurt.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 26 Sep 2016 @ 3:41pm

        Re: Re: Immunity

        The Police: Join because you want to play god over the lives of those around you, stay because those that want to hold you accountable don't have the power to do so, and those that have the power to hold you accountable don't want to.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Avior, 26 Sep 2016 @ 8:35pm

        Re: Re: Immunity

        Even if the immunity fails them, the bill is paid by someone else.

        Basically, another form of immunity. So, they've got their first line of immunity, and then backup immunity in case the first one doesn't work.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Sep 2016 @ 4:14pm

    (parody)

    The Parma police department will be arresting anyone that makes a parody of us.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Sep 2016 @ 6:13pm

      Re: (parody)

      It's getting harder to do parody when reality beats it hands down every time.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Sep 2016 @ 8:03pm

        Re: Re: (parody)

        Reality is putting comedians out of business!!!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          David, 27 Sep 2016 @ 12:19am

          Re: Re: Re: (parody)

          Shrug. Tom Lehrer already stated "Political satire became redundant when Henry Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize", likely in reference to Kissinger initiating the bombings of Cambodia. That would have been some time in the seventies.

          Satire has becoming ever more crude since then but still is losing the race against reality.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2016 @ 4:12am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: (parody)

            I guess history repeated itself when Obama won the same prize and then commenced killing citizens with drones.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Michael, 27 Sep 2016 @ 7:17am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: (parody)

              I'm pretty sure that the DOJ has secretly interpreted the law to say that a person automatically, retroactively, loses their citizenship when killed in a drone strike.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Dirkmaster (profile), 27 Sep 2016 @ 10:53am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: (parody)

            upvoted for a Tom Lehrer reference.

            Man, that guy would have been in prison quick-as-a-wink in today's world.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Michael, 27 Sep 2016 @ 7:15am

          Re: Re: Re: (parody)

          I say to you that reality is to the American comedian as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wyrm (profile), 26 Sep 2016 @ 5:30pm

    Wait. No CFAA?
    That's nearly disappointing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 26 Sep 2016 @ 7:29pm

    What I would add

    "The exam will be held on March 12, 2015. Applications are available February 14, 2016, through March 2, 2016."

    "Attention to detail a must."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DB (profile), 26 Sep 2016 @ 8:11pm

    How much did this cost the defendant?

    The are expenses might have cost the defendant far more than you might expect.

    It's difficult to put a cost on spending four unjustified days in jail. So I won't. But I did note that they waited to arrest him until the Friday before Easter. That certainly was specifically timed so that he would have to spend the Easter weekend in jail before receiving a bail hearing. That is egregious behavior when there was no urgency to arrest someone for this non-violent 'offense'.

    He was released on supervised probation. Many of those programs require paying for the 'service', including random court fees, paying for appointments with a probation officer, and paying for frequent drug tests. These fees must typically be paid in advance, and won't be returned if you are found not guilty.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 26 Sep 2016 @ 10:42pm

    why would they seize video game systems for anything other than abuse of authority

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2016 @ 5:05am

    "Parma police...launched an investigation that involved at least seven officers, a subpoena and three search warrants, and a raid on Novak's apartment"


    Talk about butt hurt .....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Adam, 27 Sep 2016 @ 5:16am

    to parody a parody.

    In Parma, the police parody you!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2016 @ 6:37am

    Is it irony or accuracy that the Parma PD is located on Powers Blvd?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    teknosapien (profile), 27 Sep 2016 @ 7:21am

    in a simple twist of Irony

    From the front page of the Parma PD website

    "...By maintaining order, protecting all constitutional freedoms and enforcing the law impartially, we will serve the City of Parma and tirelessly strive to accomplish our mission.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 27 Sep 2016 @ 12:43pm

      Re: in a simple twist of Irony

      See? How is anyone supposed to parody that? They're already a walking definition of parody, claiming to be concerned about 'protecting all constitutional freedoms and enforcing the law impartially' while cracking down on those freedoms and abusing their power and authority for personal reasons.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 27 Sep 2016 @ 7:23am

    The Government should not be allowed settlements and the likes. Any case against the govt should proceed to the end and, if abuses are proven and they are intentional the ones involved should be punished up to the bosses. Otherwise nothing will change and tax payers money will keep being wasted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    not an anon, 27 Sep 2016 @ 8:24am

    *scratches head at Parma PD*

    Why is Parma PD feeding their own fingers to the troll? Everyone knows that you don't hand-feed trolls lest they chomp your fingers off -- they're worse than horses about this!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bob, 27 Sep 2016 @ 9:14am

    A new money making venture.

    Dang, someone discovered the next get rich scheme before me. Parody thin skinned government employees then sue after they eventually trample on your rights.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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