Renton Police Drop Cyberstalking Investigation of Cartoon Creator, Pursue Harassment Claim Instead

Mr. Fuddlesticks, the pseudonymous creator of YouTube cartoons mocking the Renton, Washington, police department, no longer faces a "cyberstalking" investigation. In early August, KOMO KIRO, the CBS affiliate in Seattle, reported that King County Superior Court Judge James Cayce had approved a search warrant demanding information about Mr. Fuddlesticks from Google, which owns YouTube. After a local attorney challenged the warrant on First Amendment grounds, Cayce scheduled a hearing on the matter, imposing a stay in the meantime. Suddenly the Renton police lost interest in the warrant, saying "there has been no relevant information that we have uncovered to date on the cyberstalking case to further a criminal investigation."

That does not mean Mr. Fuddlesticks, a cop who created the videos with help from the animation site Xtranormal, is off the hook. Chief Administrative Officer Jay Covington says the cartoons, which refer to cops' sexual relationships but never actually mention Renton or name any officers, may amount to "harassment and discrimination," creating a "hostile work environment." For instance, Mr. Fuddlesticks alludes to an internal affairs investigation of Deputy Chief Tim Troxel, who was docked a day's pay for asking an on-duty officer to stake out the home of a girlfriend he suspected of cheating on him.

Meanwhile, Police Chief Kevin Milosevich has disciplined Sgt. Bill Judd and Deputy Police Chief Charles Marsalisi for their role in an Xtranormal video making fun of a new regional jail. Milosevich said Judd created the cartoon (which according to The Seattle Times was not part of Mr. Fuddlesticks' oeuvre), while Marsalisi advised him on how to post it anonymously. Because the video "deliberately distorted and exaggerated the jail's operations" and implied that its personnel (represented by a clown) are "incompetent" and "ignorant," Judd and Marsalisi were demoted to officer and sergeant, respectively.

Both Judd and Mr. Fuddlesticks (in his cartoons) argue that their parodies are constitutionally protected speech. No way, Covington says. "Let me also assure you that this does not have anything to do with violating first amendment rights," he declares. "We are committed to protecting free speech and the rights of any individual to express their opinions." 

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  • Warty||

    "We are committed to protecting free speech and the rights of any individual to express their opinions."

    This situation requires a Venn diagram.

  • PIRS||

    Not all expression can be classified as speech. A painting may express a viewpoint very clearly but a painting is not speech.

    Of course libertarians would by definition support both.

  • Warty||

    VENN. FUCKING. DIAGRAM.

  • ||

    Legally, a painting is speech, assuming it's not in an unprotected category, like obscenity.

    Venn diagrams are also speech. As is interpretive nude dance.

  • Warty||

    Is an obscene painting of a Venn diagram high art or low art?

  • ||

    You err in not understanding that all Venn diagrams are obscene.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I hope you're happy...

  • Brandon||

    Venn diagrams are only obscene if you put nipples on them

  • Joe M||

    "Let me also assure you that this does not have anything to do with violating first amendment rights," he declares. "We are committed to protecting free speech and the rights of any individual to express their opinions."

    "We are even more committed to cognitive dissonance."

  • ||

    "We should be committed to an institution of some sort."

  • ||

    "We are most committed to lying through our teeth to the public no matter how obvious our lies are, because we never get held to account anyway."

  • PIRS||

    +50

  • ||

    right. and of course the initial violation of the constitution was when the legislature PASSED the cyberstalking law which i have been claiming is unconstitutional for YEARS.

    and once passed, they must either repeal it (bwahahahaha!) or some poor sap needs to get charged/arrested so he can appeal the unconstitutionality

    as it stands, the cyberstalking law , duly passed by rights violating legislature , is the law in WA.

  • Apogee||

    the cartoons, which refer to cops' sexual relationships but never actually mention Renton or name any officers,

    Seems like quite a stretch to call this cyberstalking, because who, exactly is being stalked here? Maybe that's why they backed off of the probe.

    It would also seem to be a choice of the department to steer their investigation towards workplace intimidation, instead of treating it as a whistleblower case. After all, using police resources to spy on girlfriends is an abuse of power - something covered expressly for Washington State employees.

    Renton cops aren't state employees, and so fall outside of that description.

    But it's funny that the choice to continue to find out the names of the whistleblowers continues, even though there's considerable evidence that the intent of the legislature is in the opposite direction:

    Findings -- Intent -- 2008 c 266: "The legislature finds and declares that government exists to conduct the people's business, and the people remaining informed about the actions of government contributes to the oversight of how the people's business is conducted. The legislature further finds that many public servants who expose actions of their government that are contrary to the law or public interest face the potential loss of their careers and livelihoods.


    If this is all about pleasing the legislature, and following their dictations, then your insistence that the Renton PD Brass is helpless in their investigative choices is contradictory. They're actually ignoring the intent of the legislature for personal gain.

    Sorry, no dice.

  • ||

    apogee, try reading the actual cyberstalking statute.it criminalizes calling somebody a poopiehead as long as it's done ON THE INTERT00Bz

    read it.

  • Apogee||

    calling somebody a poopiehead

    Somebody? You mean a specific person?

  • Apogee||

    And, by the way, it's still a choice to seek the names of those blowing the whistle - entirely counter to the intent of the legislature.

    Why was that ignored?

  • ||

    apogee, i am the biggest critic of the renton pd chief.

    the thing is (the criminal "case") a farce

    however, i've been saying for years that the cyberstalking law in WA is blatantly unconstitutional and the legislature will of course suffer NO consequences for passing it

    it's the perfect example of kneejerk war on DV legislation that runs roughshod over civil rights.

  • Apogee||

    And I completely agree with you that the cyberstalking law is a perfect example of vague and inappropriate legislation that violates free speech rights.

    But that's quite different than using the excuse of legislative culpability to divert attention from active choices made by the Renton PD in their attempts to intimidate whistleblowers.

    This is a Police problem, because, as I said above, it was initially the choice of the Police Department to use the cyberstalking legislation to get information on anonymous whistleblowers. After the heat became too much, they switched tactics and are concentrating on just as vague 'workplace harassment' legislation in an attempt to intimidate their employees.

    That they make these choices when there also exists legislation (whistleblower statutes) that would exonerate the employees is telling.

    This points to my oft repeated observation that there are institutional problems with the justice system that contribute to the obscenities highlighted by Balko et al.

    There is a decided lack of transparency coupled with a lack of accountability - a bad combination when dealing with people trusted to make decisions that literally are life and death - and especially bad when these traits infect the entire management structure to the point where critics are forced to comment anonymously.

    Your repeated protestations that it is solely the fault of the legislature ignore that observation.

    Nobody expects cops to be perfect, but when bad actors are shielded by justice system bureaucrats in an unaccountable manner in order to protect their own ass, then the entire system needs an examination.

  • Copernicus||

    Here's an idea you police pussies: Why don't you just take the criticism/parody like a man and shut the fuck up?

  • Fire Tiger||

    as it stands, the cyberstalking law , duly passed by rights violating legislature , is the law in WA.
    And is one more tool in your bag of tricks that you patently know are unconstitutional but are still willing to use.

  • Federal Dog||

    If it is facially unconstitutional, it can't be.

    Everyone in the country could vote to round up blacks and put them in camps, e.g., and it still wouldn't be valid law.

    Constitutionality and popularity are two entirely separate analytical concepts.

  • Highway||

    "We are committed to protecting free speech and the rights of any individual to express their opinions."

    "You should just believe it cause I said it! I wouldn't say it if it wasn't true, would I? Seriously, who goes around saying false things. We would never do that!"

  • Federal Dog||

    "Seriously, who goes around saying false things. We would never do that!"

    Well, dunphy has openly shrieked on this very site that ALL DEFENSE LAWYERS ARE LIARS!!!!!1!!1!!1!!1!!!

    Oh yeah, baby!

  • Highway||

    "We are committed to protecting free speech and the rights of any individual to express their opinions."

    Oh wait, I think I get it. They're committed to the rights of any individual to express their opinion, but people should come out and identify themselves, so the subjects can 'express their own opinion' of their expressing. Maybe with a little outside-the-office 'persuasion'.

  • ||

    They support card check for political speech.

  • Tim||

    Chief Milosevich sounds like a douche.

  • Apatheist||

    and a war criminal

  • A Flock of Sheep||

    Oh the stories we could tell!

  • Gojira||

    They're absolutely permitted to protecting the right to express an opinion...as long as the opinion is correct.

    A business owner may legitmately have a complaint if untrue and malicious statements are made about him, reducing his business. Thankfully, the police are a legal monopoly and don't have to worry about "competitors"!

  • Chatroom Crackpot||

    I had a government thug threaten me. I make it a point to flip off any vehicle I see with a government seal on the door. The poor tax feeder didn't like it. First he threatened to have me arrested for harassment. I told him I would see him in court. Then he wanted to meet late at night to "kick your ass". I stated I was right in front of him then, he could have a go if he wanted. Sadly he drove off in a huff. No doubt to go enforce some idiotic edict from the county government.

  • ||

    you should have audiotaped it.

    that's unacceptable and deserves punishment.

  • Fire Tiger||

    that's unacceptable and deserves punishment.
    ....Along with a sweet severance deal.

  • Mr. Mark||

    Policing... It's mental illness, but with guns.

  • ##||

    "We are committed to protecting free speech and the rights of any individual to express their opinions that we agree with."

  • ||

    My favorite quote from this debacle is the Renton city attorney, after the city (wisely, unlike anything else they've done) decided to stop pursuing the cyberstalking charge:

    But city attorney Larry Warren, sitting next to Covington in a City Hall conference room, reaffirmed his belief that a crime did occur – cyberstalking; investigators just weren't able to gather the evidence to prove it.

    ROFL.

  • ||

    actually, he is correct... in a sense.

    it WAS a violation of WA's cyberstalking law. thus, a "crime" did occur. the problem is that, as i have said for years, WA's cyberstalking law is BLATANTLY unconstitutional.

    however, once a legislature passes an unconstitutional law there is no remedy save

    1) repealing it (unlikely. cause legislators don't want to admit they are wrong
    2) somebody actually getting charged with it and then appealing it is unconstitutional (judicial review)

  • Fire Tiger||

    And thus you hit upon the crux of the issue. The police, including you, are willing to act in blantently unconstituiton, and thus illegal, ways knowing that the vast majority of people they run into do not have the funds nor the know how to fight against their actions.

  • ||

    Well this at least shows that police department IA units are actually capable of ruling that officers acted unjustifiably and not in accordance with established procedures.

  • Joe M||

    Rule #1 of Police Club: always circle the wagons.
    Rule #2 of Police Club: always circle the wagons.

    And it's wagons all the way down.

  • ||

    as i've been saying, there are literally thousands of points of data that IA units hold officers accountable all the fucking time.

    regardless, imo (imo) this speech is constitutionally protected under the relevant case law since it meets the "matters of public concern" exception

  • Fire Tiger||

    Care to provide data that supports your statement?

  • Brandon||

    It happened on an episode of Law and Order once.

  • johnl||

    And the IA units are not holding the brass accountable.

  • Fire Tiger||

    I wouldn't go so far as to say that. As this case proves there are instances where officers do face consequences. I.E. letting the public know what is going with their police force and face demotion.

  • Mainer||

    Have you ever noticed how the phrase "Let me assure you..." is a tell ? It's always followed by a lie.
    Always.

  • ||

    we've been going over this at volokh.

    the cyberstalking law is unconstitutional - i've been saying this for years.

    however, even employees of public agencies can be disciplined for certain off duty speech. however, imo not THIS speech because it falls under "matters of public concern" again imo

  • sven||

    Not to be nitpicky, but KOMO is the ABC affiliate here; KIRO is the CBS affiliate.

  • Greer||

    Not to be nitpicky, but...

    Ever notice how the word 'but' introduces a phrase that is in contradiction to the first phrase.

    But I kid.

  • CAO Covington||

    We are committed to protecting free speech and the rights of any individual to express their opinions, but...

  • Graham Shevlin||

    ...they should remember that they are only entitled to our opinions.

    There you are..fixed.

  • ||

    Chief Milosevich will now pursue a harassment claim against whomever is making these cartoons. Anonymous cartoons posted to the internet, that do not identify real people, are now workplace harassment.
    So of course, now those cartoons are getting a wider audience.
    Aren't police supposed to know something about the law? Some adult needs to tell the chief to sit down and STFU, or he is going to cost the city a whole pile of money when he harasses someone.

  • ||

    "Let me also assure you that this does not have anything to do with violating first amendment rights," he declares. "We are committed to protecting free speech and the rights of any individual to express their opinions."

    Every single English teacher this man ever had, as well as the instructors of any and all Ethics courses he may have taken, should be fired for ostentatious incompetence. Or, if they are retired, deprived of their pensions.

  • DDTroll||

    The last two sentences of this article made my brains go all explodey.

  • ||

    These were just brilliant! Funny and to the point-- sounds like Renton needs to take a big pill and chill out.

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