Twitter Parody Account Leads to Police Raid, Free Speech Lawsuit

Twitter parody accounts, in general, are the worst, but punishment against their authors probably shouldn't go beyond a simple mute or unfollow. Jim Ardis, mayor of Peoria, Ill., disagrees.

When an account popped up portraying Ardis as a boozy, crack-smoking strip club enthusiast, he launched an investigation into its origins that ended with an armed police raid of the creator's house.

Jon Daniel, a 29-year-old writer and line cook, told the Associated Press he started @peoriamayor as "a joke." The account has since been suspended, but while it was active, it tweeted out such gems as "Im bout to climb the civic center and do some lines on the roof who's in," and "I am trill as fuck."

VICE has screenshots:

Twitter Parody Account Leads to Police Raid, Free Speech Lawsuit

Shortly after Daniel launched the account, which reportedly never topped 50 followers, Ardis took an urgent interest. The AP obtained email correspondence between the mayor and several other Peoria public officials:

Within two days of the account's creation, the city manager sent an email to Sam Rivera, the city's chief information officer, asking for his help in getting the account taken down.

"Someone is using the Mayor's likeness in a twitter account," Urich wrote in a March 11 email. "It's not him. @Peoriamayor. Can you work to get it shut down today?"

Less than an hour later, Urich turned to police Chief Steve Settingsgaard and asked him to have Detective James Feehan, a member of the department's computer crimes unit, investigate the identity of the account's creator. Settingsgaard quickly agreed. By 11 a.m. — about four hours after Urich first contacted the department — Feehan expressed doubts about whether any crime had been committed.

Ardis pressed on, despite his police department's doubts. Eventually, Feehan found a Illinois statute that makes it illegal to falsely portray a government official, and the mayor had his in. Police subpoenaed Twitter for the IP address behind @peoriamayor, then subpoenaed Comcast to trace that informration back to Daniel's house.

The raid happened April 15. Insanely, a warrant allowed cops to search for drugs and paraphernalia in addition to electronics that could post to Twitter, because one tweet included a photo of a "white powdery substance" and a razor blade.

Four iPhones, an iPad, two XBoxes, and four computers were confiscated, but ultimately, Daniel was not arrested. Jacob Elliott, his roommate, was not so lucky. Armed with the drug-friendly search warrant, cops seized a "large gold gift bag with five sandwich bags containing a green leafy substance," and arrested Elliott for pot possession.

Now, Daniel is suing Ardis and six other city employees, alleging that the raid infringed on his First and Fourth Amendment rights. The suit does not specify financial damages.

Ardis is digging his heels in even further, threatening a countersuit against Daniel for defamation. The AP reports that after the public threat, "the 55-year-old mayor gave a straight-faced reading of Daniel's most off-color tweets, including messages that voiced enthusiastic support for strippers, tequila and crack pipes." Unfortunately, there seems to be no video of this reading on YouTube.

Update: We have video, and it is a doozy.