- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 3, 2015

City officials in Peoria, Illinois will pay $125,000 to a local man more than a year after his home was raided by authorities over a parody Twitter account that poked fun at Mayor Jim Ardis.

Attorneys for Jon Daniel, a 30-year-old father who ran the @peoriamayor account before it was suspended, said a settlement was reached on Wednesday this week. As part of the agreement, the city will also have to remind the Peoria Police Department that impersonating a public official for purposes of parody or satire isn’t against the law.

“I am satisfied with the outcome in this case,” Mr. Daniel said in a statement. “I always thought that the Twitter account was a joke for me and for my friends.”

City officials became aware of the account shortly following its creation in March 2014 and asked Twitter to shut it down soon after. Their investigation didn’t end there, however, and subpoenas were served to the social networking site and a local Internet Service Provider in hopes of figuring out the identity of whomever had opened the account.

That April, four armed officers raided the residence shared by Mr. Daniel and his roommates and confiscated computers, smartphones and video game consoles as part of their investigation. Officials had hoped to prosecute the person behind the account with crimes related to impersonating a public official, but charges were never bought.

Instead, the Illinois branch of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit challenging the closure of the account, the exposure of its administrator’s identity and the investigation and arrest. Those claims will be resolved once the proposed settlement reached this week is approved in court.

“The joke of the account was to have my fictional mayor saying things that no one would possibly think that Mayor Jim Ardis would say,” Mr. Daniel said last year. “You can’t do terrorist type of things or threaten people. But a simple joke, a parody, mocking somebody, that’s obviously not illegal.”

Among the tweets authored by Mr. Daniel before his fake account was suspended were missives in which the supposed mayor discussed snorting cocaine atop the Peoria Civic Center and references to “tequila and stripper night.”

“There is no way for someone to know that what was being said under my name, picture and contact information was not coming from me,” Ardis told reporters at the time. “My identity as mayor was stolen. Anyone reading the content would assume they were reading my comments as the mayor.”

“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,” ACLU attorney Karen Sheley said in a statement this week.

Jim Sotos, an attorney for Peoria, said that the settlement agreed upon is “a fraction of what the city would have had to pay” in order for his firm to litigate the case as planned.

In a statement, Peoria officials said they “believe strongly that the City would have ultimately won the case, but the reality is it would have cost the City several times the amount of the settlement in order to win.”

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