First Amendment

Parody mayoral Twitter account spurs police raid and drug arrest; ACLU may sue

A police raid of the home of an Illinois man who created a parody Twitter account has resulted in drug charges against one of his roommates.

Police raided the home of Jon Daniel on April 15 after learning he was the man behind the @peoriamayor Twitter account, the Peoria Journal Star reports. The tweets mocked Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis with profane language about sex and drugs.

The raid was conducted to find evidence to prosecute the owner of the account for “false personation of a public official.”

At the time, police thought there was probable cause of a crime, State’s Attorney Jerry Brady told the Journal Star. Brady later decided that Daniel couldn’t be prosecuted because the statute doesn’t apply to the Internet.

Police say they found bags of marijuana during the raid. On Tuesday, grand jurors indicted Daniel’s roommate Jacob Elliott on two charges of marijuana possession.

The Peoria Journal Star received emails about the search in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the newspaper reports in this story. In a March 13 email, Ardis wrote, “I absolutely will prosecute. Bring it on.” According to the newspaper, the newly released documents “depict an aggressive, high-priority stance taken against the Twitter account within hours of it being noticed.”

The original Twitter account had the mayor’s email address, but that was removed days later. At the same time, the word “parody” was added to the account, the newspaper says. The account has been suspended.

A spokesperson for the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said it was likely to file a lawsuit on Daniel’s behalf, the Journal Star reports in a separate story. “We believe that what Mr. Daniel did is well within the tradition of parody and he should never have been submitted to a police raid as a result of that activity,” said spokesperson Ed Yohnka.

“We hope this action will send a strong signal to all that wrongful use of the police power to suppress protected speech, even when it is critical or makes fun of public officials, is an abuse of power and is not acceptable,” he said.

The outcome was different when a fake Twitter account parodied Rahm Emanuel during his Chicago mayoral bid, according to this April 2011 article in the Atlantic. Emanuel offered $5,000 to the charity of the Twitter writer’s choice if the person revealed his identity. The writer was Dan Sinker, a Columbia College journalism professor who previously founded a punk rock publication.

Sinker now oversees the Knight-Mozilla Open News Project, the Chicago Tribune reports, and turned his Twitter antics into a book, The F***ing Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel. He tells the newspaper that Ardis “appears to be the thinnest-skinned guy on Earth.”

Updated at 11:20 a.m. to note that the @peoriamayor Twitter account has been suspended.

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy and the ABA Code of Conduct.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.