from the mayor's-power-inversely-proportionate-to-skin-thickness dept
The taxpayers of Peoria, Illinois, will be footing the bill for the bumbling thuggishness of their thin-skinned mayor and an all-too-compliant police force.
Last April, Peoria mayor Jim Ardis somehow stumbled across a parodic Twitter account run by local Jon Daniel. Taking offense to the account’s content, Ardis managed to talk the police department into raiding Daniel’s apartment, despite the chief of police informing the mayor that no criminal activity had actually occurred.
Backlash ensued. The mayor took to the airwaves to defend his actions, claiming the parody account used up all the free speech, leaving him no way to defend himself against tweets suggesting he was “trill as fuck.”
A lawsuit ensued. The ACLU took up Daniel’s case and sued the mayor, the city and various law enforcement officers. Faced with the possibility of increased damages if the case went to trial, the city has decided to pay Daniel $125,000 for actions it took because its mayor couldn’t take a joke.
The central Illinois city of Peoria tentatively agreed Wednesday to pay $125,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a man whose home was raided by police over a Twitter account he created depicting the mayor as a lewd fan of drugs and alcohol.
The deal includes no admission that Peoria did anything wrong, but it calls for the city to send its police department a directive emphasizing that parody does not fall under an Illinois statute regulating false personation of a public official, which was used to obtain warrants to arrest Daniel.
As is the case with nearly every government lawsuit settlement, the accused get to walk away without admitting wrongdoing while allowing other people to pick up the tab.
The directive agreed to by the city in the settlement is the tiniest concession of wrongdoing. And, as such, it’s redundant. It simply demands the police enforce the law as it is written, rather than the mayor’s reading of it through the haze of butthurt and misdirected indignation.
In consideration of the releases set forth in Paragraph 6 above, Defendant agrees to implement the False Personation Statute Directive (attached hereto as Exhibit 1), including but not limited to announcing and distributing Exhibit 1 to all current City of Peoria police officers at roll call and certifying to the ACLU that they have done so. Defendant City of Peoria further agrees that it will continue to abide by the terms of the False Personation Statute Directive until and unless a specific change in circumstances, such as a modification in the governing law or a change in the interpretation of the law by the Peoria County State’s Attorney’s office, provides Defendant a good faith belief that adherence to the terms of the False Personation Statute Directive are no longer appropriate.
This reminder shouldn’t be needed and will doubtless be greeted with various levels of eye-rolling when delivered to police officers. The cops that weren’t involved will know the actions taken on behalf of Ardis were wrong. And those who did participate will resent being talked down to by a settlement stipulation. The underlying problem with this directive is that — as noted above — the involved officers already knew Daniel’s parody account didn’t break the law cited in support of the raid of his apartment.
Here’s what Chief Settingsgaard emailed to the mayor before the raid took place.
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.
And yet, the police did raid Daniel’s apartment. Rereading the law at roll call isn’t going to prevent abuse in the future. The Peoria Police Department has already indicated its willingness to ignore the law if the right person asks. With this settlement, it’s basically buying its way out of accountability.