The mayor of Peoria, Ill., is facing a First Amendment-fueled backlash for reportedly ordering a raid of the home of a Twitter user who set up a mock account accusing the mayor of drug use and cavorting with prostitutes.
The @Peoriamayor account was created about nine weeks ago and subsequently sent out dozens of tweets about Jim Ardis, parody style. Twitter reportedly suspended the account in mid-March.
About a week before its suspension, the account was actually labeled a parody account. But city police, reportedly acting under the order of Mr. Ardis, issued a warrant and raided the suspect’s home — a tactic that left legal experts up in arms.
“I find it very troubling,” Angela Campbell, a professor at Georgetown University Law School, told Fox News. “It chills people’s First Amendment rights to criticize officials … whether it’s through parody or just calling somebody a jerk.”
Aaron Caplan, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, agreed.
“This absolutely raises concerns from me. Under the Constitution, you can criticize people in power,” he said to Fox. “It’s how you can tell the difference between a democracy and a police state. And you can do it through humor.”
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The suspect, who is not named in the report, was accused of unlawfully impersonating a public official. One resident at the home told the Peoria Journal Star that police seized the suspect’s computers and smartphones to try and determine the name of the Twitter account holder, Fox News reported.
Police also reportedly brought three people who were at the home during the raid down to the station for questioning. Two others who live in the home were contacted in person by police at their places of work and taken to the station for interrogation, Fox News reported.
A Peoria Police Department official later told Fox News that one of the residents was arrested for possession of marijuana.
Legal minds say the execution of a search warrant for a Twitter post is disturbing nevertheless.
Ms. Campbell said the charge of unlawfully impersonating a public official — a misdemeanor that carries a maximum $2,500 fine and one year in jail — doesn’t seem to apply in this case. That law, she told Fox News, is aimed more at keeping people from impersonating police officers.