Banana Republic in Peoria, IL: Police Sent After Parody Twitter Account

Someone thought Jim Ardis, the mayor of Peoria, IL, deserved to be mocked. So he set up a twitter account, @peoriamayor and made some unsavory posts on it. According to Reason’s Hit & Run blog,

According to the Journal Star, the account had all of 50 posts and an equal number of followers. The Twitter profile apparently did not initially indicate that it was a parody account, but added that label in early March.

The label was hardly necessary, though, to prevent reader confusion. The Journal Star explains that “police were informed of the account by Ardis on March 12. The tweets implied ‘Mayor Ardis utilizes illegal drugs, associates with prostitutes and utilized offensive inappropriate language,’ according to an affidavit filed for the warrant.” Who would actually believe such tweets were coming from the mayor? Well, maybe residents of Toronto.

Jim Ardis is a public figure. A twitter account has the same right to mock him that Saturday Night Live has to spoof mock a public figure. But Ardis would not be restrained by such considerations. He ordered the police to track down the owner of the twitter account. Apparently, they were going to arrest the writer for impersonating the mayor.

According to the Journal Star:

Police searched a West Bluff house Tuesday and seized phones and computers in an effort to unmask the author of a parody Twitter account that purported to be Mayor Jim Ardis.

The account — known as @Peoriamayor on the popular social media service that limits entries to 140 characters — already had been suspended for several weeks when up to seven plainclothes police officers executed a search warrant about 5:20 p.m. at 1220 N. University St.

Three people at the home were taken to the Peoria Police Department for questioning. Two other residents were picked up at their places of employment and taken to the station, as well.

One resident — 36-year-old Jacob L. Elliott — was booked into the Peoria County Jail on charges of possessing 30 to 500 grams of marijuana and possessing drug paraphernalia, but no arrests were made in connection with the Twitter account.

“They just asked me about the Twitter account, if I knew anything about it,” said Michelle Pratt, 27, a resident who was in the shower when officers first arrived at the front door. “They brought me in like I was a criminal.”

In my opinion this is a criminal move. If you or I were mocked on Twitter, we would not be able to get the police to track down the miscreant and raid his home. Is that how our country is supposed to work? Politicians get extra protection from mockery that the rest of us must do without?

What is bizarre to me is that no one is treating this as a dangerous and criminal abuse of authority. The Reason.com post is opposed to what the mayor did, of course, but it treats it as a joke. The newspaper reports I saw don’t seem to think the mayor’s actions were out of line either.

But a politician has assumed to himself the power to punish someone for writing about him. That seems way over the line!