A parody Twitter account using the name of the mayor of Peoria, Illinois has led, through an extremely strange series of events, to a federal civil rights lawsuit and felony drug charges. Police raided a house in April 2014 and seized multiple computers in a purported investigation of false impersonation of a public official, a misdemeanor under Illinois law. No charges were ever filed in connection with the Twitter account, but police claim to have found drugs and drug paraphernalia linked to another resident of the house who had no connection to the account. A judge denied the roommate’s motion to suppress, ruling that the search warrant was supported by probable cause, but that police needed to explain why they were searching for drugs.
The Twitter account, @PeoriaMayor, was the result of boredom, according to its creator, Jon Daniel. The posts, which were generally described as “raunchy” and “profane,” drew the attention of Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis, who was not amused. Ardis complained to Twitter, which suspended the account and then notified the police. Police officers executed a search warrant in mid-April on the house where Daniel lived with several roommates. They seized every electronic device in the house connected to the internet and arrested the three people who were present at the time. They picked up two additional residents at their workplaces and took them to the station for questioning.
The prosecutor declined to bring charges under Illinois’ false impersonation statute, which requires proof of impersonating a public official or employee “in furtherance of the commission of a felony” or “for the purpose of effectuating identity theft.” 720 I.L.C.S. 5/17-2(b)(2.3), (2.7); see also Tex. Pen. Code § 37.11, 18 U.S.C. § 912. Daniel filed a lawsuit against the city and numerous officials in June, alleging violations of his First Amendment right to free speech and his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures. Daniel v. City of Peoria, et al, No. 1:14-cv-01232, complaint (C.D. Ill., Jun. 11, 2014).
During the search of the house, police allegedly found marijuana and drug paraphernalia. They arrested another resident of the house, Jacob Elliott, and charged him with possession of between 30 and 500 grams of marijuana, a felony offense in Illinois. State of Illinois v. Elliott, No. 14-CF-00268-1 (Ill. Cir. Ct., 10th Jud. Dist., Apr. 17, 2014). Elliott moved to suppress the evidence seized during the search of the house, arguing that the warrant was invalid.
In mid-September, the judge denied the motion, finding that police had probable cause to search the house for evidence related to alleged false impersonation in connection with the parody Twitter account. The argument in support of the motion to suppress reportedly relied in part on the county attorney’s earlier decision against false impersonation charges, but the judge did not accept that position as legally binding. He found, however, that the warrant only covered items related to the Twitter account, such as computers, cell phones, and flash drives. Officers allegedly searched Elliott’s closet and found the drugs in a bag. The judge ordered police to testify at a later hearing about why they searched those and other areas of the house.
For more than 20 years, criminal defense lawyer Michael J. Brown has fought for the rights of his clients in west Texas in criminal cases at the state and federal levels. To schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case, contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157.
More Blog Posts:
Federal Judge Grants Default Judgment in Forfeiture Action for Money that Allegedly Smelled Like Marijuana, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, September 23, 2014
The Strange World of Criminal Copyright Enforcement, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, September 17, 2014