Peoria Mayor Sends Police to Raid Home of Twitter Parody Account Creator
I, for one, find parody accounts on Twitter hilarious; however, it is obvious that Jim Ardis, the mayor of Peoria, Illinois, disagrees. After discovering that someone had created a parody Twitter account in his name, rather than laugh it off, Ardis took extreme measures that ultimately led to a police raid of the creator’s home.
The account used the handle @peoriamayor and portrayed the mayor as a foul-mouthed, frequent drug user who loved going to strip clubs. The creator of the account is 29-year-old Jon Daniel, a writer, line cook, and father of two. Daniel shared with the Associated Press that he started the Twitter account as a joke. He told them, “I thought my friends would find it funny.”
While Daniel’s friends did indeed find the account funny, Ardis did not. Shortly after the account’s creation, the mayor discovered it and immediately started the process of getting it taken down. Just two days after the account’s creation, the city manager contacted the city’s chief information officer, Sam Rivera, and asked for help getting the account taken down. The email, which was sent on March 11, read, “Someone is using the Mayor’s likeness in a twitter account, it’s not him. @Peoriamayor. Can you work to get it shut down today?”
Just an hour later, emails were sent by city manager Patrick Urich to the city’s police chief demanding a police investigation into the account’s creator. While the police were skeptical if a crime had even been committed, Ardis was persistent and demanded that it be looked into further. Eventually, Detective James Feehan dug deep enough and found an obscure Illinois statute that makes it illegal to falsely portray a government official. The police were then able to subpoena Twitter for the IP address behind @Peoriamayor, and then subpoenaed Comcast to trace that IP information back to Daniel’s house.
On April 15, three weeks after the account was suspended, police raided Daniel’s home. Because one of the tweets involved a photo of a “white powdery substance” and a razor blade, the police entered the home armed with a warrant allowing them to search for drugs, paraphernalia, and electronics that could post to Twitter. The police confiscated several electronic devices, but ultimately did not arrest Daniel.
They did, however, arrest his roommate. Police seized a “large gold gift bag with five sandwich bags containing a green leafy substance” and arrested Jacob Elliot, Daniel’s roommate, for possession of marijuana.
Daniel is now fighting back, and suing Ardis and six other city employees for violating his First and Fourth Amendment rights. The account was clearly labeled as a parody account, and therefore should not have been taken down. Typically, spoofs and parodies like this Twitter account are protected by the First Amendment because they are considered a form of political speech and are not intended to deceive anyone.
The 55-year-old mayor is threatening a countersuit for defamation. In an attempt to demonstrate that the tweets were not clearly parody, Ardis “gave a straight-faced reading of Daniel’s most off-color tweets, including messages that voiced enthusiastic support for strippers, tequila and crack pipes.”
Just three days after the raid, Ardis received some detrimental news for his defamation “case” –there may be an internet exception to the impersonating statute. If this is the case, everyone missed it, from the investigators to the State Attorney’s Office to the judges, and it is likely that they will toss his case. In addition, the mayor has received major public criticism for his drastic actions against Daniel. The incident has been labeled “Twittergate” in Illinois, and several other Ardis parody accounts have popped up on social media. It will be interesting to see what, if any, action Ardis takes against these new impersonators. Hopefully he won’t be raiding any more homes.
Ardis has also received many emails from people all over the world mocking him for his actions. One message read: “Just to give you heads up, sir: I will be mocking you at the dinner table this evening, I will await your stormtroopers with some fresh coffee and rolls. Please phone ahead.” While this situation is yet to be resolved, it’s unlikely that things will turn out in Ardis’ favor.
And for your daily laugh, here is a video of Ardis reading some of @peoriamayor’s tweets:
Brittany Alzfan (@BrittanyAlzfan) is a student at the George Washington University majoring in Criminal Justice. She was a member of Law Street’s founding Law School Rankings team during the summer of 2014. Contact Brittany at staff@LawStreetMedia.com.
Featured image courtesy of [Glenn Halog via Flickr]