When he discovered that a parody Twitter account with the handle @Peoriamayor was mocking him with 140 character satirical tweets, Peoria, Illinois, Mayor Jim Ardis did what any self-respecting abuser of political power would: He ordered local police to track down and harass the people responsible for the parody social media account.
After two local judges signed off on a search warrant at behest of the mayor and his personal police force, law enforcement officials set to work rounding up the dangerous criminals behind the political satire.
Via Peoria’s Journal Star (emphasis added):
… [U]p to seven plainclothes police officers executed a search warrant about 5:20 p.m. at 1220 N. University St.
Three people at the home were taken to the Peoria Police Department for questioning. Two other residents were picked up at their places of employment and taken to the station, as well.
One resident — 36-year-old Jacob L. Elliott — was booked into the Peoria County Jail on charges of possessing 30 to 500 grams of marijuana and possessing drug paraphernalia, but no arrests were made in connection with the Twitter account.
“They just asked me about the Twitter account, if I knew anything about it,” said Michelle Pratt, 27, a resident who was in the shower when officers first arrived at the front door. “They brought me in like I was a criminal.”
Pratt, who is Elliott’s girlfriend, said she spent more than three hours alone in an interview room before being questioned by detectives. One other resident, who declined to be identified, said he spent considerably less time in custody but was subject to the same type of questions.
“They said they had a search warrant and took all the electronic devices that had Internet access,” Pratt said. “They said there had been an Internet crime that occurred at this residence.”
There are a few details about the Twitter account which sparked the taxpayer-funded police raid this week that make the situation even more outrageous. First, according to reports, the account had been suspended by Twitter since March. In addition, the 50 tweets made from the account, ranging from benign to a bit vulgar, were reaching an audience of about 50 followers.
“A parody means it’s fake. It was even listed as fake,” Pratt told the Journal Star. “It was a joke Twitter account, and they searched the whole house.”
While the parody label reportedly wasn’t added to the profile until March, it’s difficult to believe that officials had any real inclination that residents were mistaking the parody account’s tweets for dispatches from the actual mayor.
An affidavit filed for the warrant said that the parody tweets suggested “Mayor Ardis utilizes illegal drugs, associates with prostitutes and utilized offensive inappropriate language.”
It goes on to explain that the mayor intended to “pursue the incident” because he did not give anyone permission to “create the account using his personal photograph or information from his elected office.”
Furthermore, Ardis and his chief of police Steve Settingsgaard evidently belong to the group of people who assume that everything on the Internet must be true.
“I don’t agree it was obvious, and in fact it appears that someone went to great lengths to make it appear it was actually from the mayor,” Settingsgaard told local media.
Of course, it stands to reason that the local police and the mayor’s office are in regular contact with local media and probably could have publically announced that the Twitter account was fake and condemned the parody at a much lower cost to taxpayers.
It would be bad enough to report that a thin-skinned mayor ordered a police raid after having a hissy fit over a parody Twitter profile, but the ridiculousness is compounded by the items police took from the raided residence.
In order to create a Twitter account, one needs a computer or some other capable device, an Internet connection, a name, an email address, and to choose password and username. In executing their warrant, according to the Journal Star, cops confiscated “several iPhones, two Xbox video game consoles, computers, pieces of mail, drug paraphernalia, alleged marijuana and digital memory cards.”
While the incident is a shocking abuse of political power, Vice’s Justin Glawe, who hails from Peoria, said that the government corruption is unsurprising to people familiar with the town.
Peoria is a town of 116,000 people. It has some problems with crime and also some problems with the police, which you can get a sense of if you follow my work or the work of Matt Buedel, the Journal Star crime reporter who broke a several stories last year detailing misconduct within the police department, including an attempt to catch a city councilman in a prostitution sting. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office ruled that an internal report regarding some of those acts of alleged misconduct should be released, but the city and the police department refused. (That report was apparently “lost” by Settingsgaard, and somehow ended up in the hands of a panhandler whom, coincidentally, I used to work at a gas station with and know to be a pretty serious drug addict.)
As depressing as this latest reminder of political corruption is, there’s still a silver lining: Ardis’s attempt to quash his satirical detractors has failed miserably and he’s now suffering the wrath of the Internet.
Here’s a sample of some new Peoria Mayor Twitter parodies: