Peoria must pay out $125,000 because the mayor felt he had the right to use the police force against a parody Twitter account.
Back in April of 2014, Mark Horne posted about how the police raided the home of a parody Twitter account that mocked the mayor. The mayor was the driving force behind the raid. He basically used the police as his personal palace guard.
Now it seems that the taxpayers of Peoria are going to have to pay out. At Reason.com, we read:
Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis’ illegal retaliation against a man who created a parody Twitter account using the handle @peoriamayor will cost the city $125,000 under a settlement announced last week. Jon Daniel set up the account on March 9, 2014, as “a joke for me and for my friends.”
Jon Daniel’s humor was not that funny and tended toward the disgusting. But there is this pesky thing called the First Amendment! Even if there is reason to wish a parody Twitter account should be exempt from freedom of speech, that would need to apply to everyone. You and I don’t have a private, though tax-fed, army that is able and ready to raid people who say things we don’t like. So why should the mayor get to use the police in that way?
The raid was excused on the grounds that a parody Twitter account involved impersonating a public official. The prosecutor refused to charge him because he knew the law did not apply. There was no intention to deceive here.
Despite these embarrassing facts, which indicate that Ardis sought to jail Daniel for nothing more than speech that offended him, the mayor initially defended the investigation, search, and arrest, noting that a local judge had approved all the necessary warrants. “We took every step in accordance with the law,” the mayor’s lawyer told Ars Technica in August 2014. “They appropriately went to the court to obtain warrants. The court reviewed the statute and evidence and made a determination. In the end, that’s a judge’s determination to issue a warrant or not. It’s not unreasonable that a person would look at that statute to see if there was a violation.”
While the judge obviously deserves blame for rubber-stamping these warrants without considering whether police were alleging an actual violation of the law, this unconstitutional vendetta was initiated by Ardis because he couldn’t take a joke. As ACLU attorney Karen Sheley observes, “Hurt feelings do not free government from the responsibility of respecting Mr. Daniel’s freedom of speech and freedom from being arrested for that speech.” It’s too bad that Ardis is not personally on the hook for the $125,000 settlement, which will instead be covered by taxpayers. That’s on top of at least $50,000 the city already had spent defending against Daniel’s suit, and it does not include the police resources wasted on the case, which probably could have been used to pursue threats to public safety more serious than a bunch of sophomoric Twitter jokes.
All told, this diversion into the Mayor’s personal vendetta is probably costing the city $200,000 total.