OHIO POLICE DON’T LAUGH, ARREST MAN FOR PARODY PAGE ON FACEBOOK
Be careful if you make fun of the police online. There appears to be retaliation that goes beyond the pale. That seems to be the case for Anthony Novak, a 28-year-old who was recently arrested, then acquitted of a felony charge for creating an online parody account depicting his local police department. Novak has now sued the city of Parma, two Parma police officers as well as a third law enforcement official. Parma attests they all engaged in a violation of his civil rights.
“WE NO CRIME,” DON’T’ FEED THE HOMELESS, POLICE GIVE ABORTIONS, SOME OF THE GAGS THAT GOT MAN ARRESTED, CHARGED
Parma was arrested last year after he created a fake Facebook account called “The City of Parma Police Department.” While the parody looked very like the real Parma Police Page, it was subtly different and included obviously inaccurate claims. Their obviousness was used in his defense to show the page was a clear parody. One parody post was a job listing that “strongly” encouraged minorities not to apply. Another showed that the department offered abortion services, with yet another touting a law against feeding homeless people. The Parma Police About Page included a note, “We Know Crime,” where Parma’s parody said, “We no crime.”
MAN ARRESTED, JAILED, HOME RAIDED, TECH CONFISCATED, INVESTIGATED FOR CHILD PORN, JUST (BE)CAUSE
An investigation was launched into the page almost immediately and Novak took it down less than 12 hours after it was created. But Novak was collared a few weeks later and slapped with a fourth-degree felony charge under Ohio’s “Disruption of Public Services” statute. During a four-day stretch in the city jail, a SWAT team raided his apartment, confiscating his hard drives, two cellphones, a laptop, and—wait for it—his Xbox 360 and Playstation 4.
The police department further enlisted the aid of the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force to go after Novak, though the charges brought against him had nothing to do with child pornography.
After a jury returned a “not guilty” verdict in August 2016, Novak sued the city. Among other claims, his attorneys argued that the statute under which he was arrested was overly broad and too vague, essentially granting authorities a license to arrest individuals engaged in First Amendment activities. The suit was reportedly dropped in January due to “deficiencies” in the complaint.
A new lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages and the return of Novak’s electronics, accuses the City of Parma and two police officers of “calculated and deliberate” retaliation against Novak in response to constitutionally protected speech.
“Mocking our government officials is a fundamental American right,” the complaint says. “Yet on March 2, 2016, officers of the Parma Police Department launched a sham investigation against a citizen because he made fun of them on Facebook, abusing the State’s police powers and enlisting a child-pornography task force to retaliate against and silence his criticism.”
Novak is not the first US citizen to be arrested for creating a Facebook account satirizing public officials—nor is he the first to be acquitted. There’s the infamous Peoria, Illinois, case, in which a man was arrested for creating a Twitter account mocking his town’s mayor. The acquitted man was awarded $125,000 in damages and attorney’s fees last September in a civil suit against the city for violating his First Amendment rights.
Just a week ago, a Florida man named Ernesto Orsetti was arrested last week after creating a Twitter account mocking a spokesperson for the Miami Beach Police Department. The department’s police chief justified the arrest by arguing that Orsetti’s account was “threatening to damage the reputation of our superb Public Information Officer, as well as the Miami Beach Police Department brand.”