KIRO-TV, the CBS affiliate in Seattle, reports that Renton, Washington, police are using a trumped-up cyberstalking investigation to uncover the identity of "Mr. Fuddlesticks," the creator of nine online cartoons that mock the police department and allude to various internal affairs investigations. One of the cartoons, produced with Xtranormal software, includes this locker-room exchange between a mustachioed cop in uniform and a brown-haired bureaucrat in a pink dress:
Cop: Why am I being questioned about something that is not criminal? Have any rule or policy violations occurred?
Bureaucrat: Well, actually, no, but the department does not like laundry being aired in public. We do a fine job of keeping dirt inside….
Cop: Is there any reason why an anonymous video with no identifying information that ties it to the department or city is being taken more seriously than officers having sex on duty, arguing with outside agencies while in a drunken stupor off duty, sleeping while on duty, throwing someone off a bridge, and having inappropriate relationships with coworkers and committing adultery?
Bureaucrat: The reason is that internal dirt is internal. The department will take care of certain people and crucify others. It's not what you know but who you know and what we know about others.
Cop: Great. No one has a sense of humor.
An attorney who specializes in cyberstalking and First Amendment issues tells KIRO:
The cyberstalking angle doesn't pass the laugh test. It's a serious stretch, and I'd be surprised if somebody looked at it and realistically thought these acts actually fit the statute and we could make somebody criminally liable….I think they were trying to get at the speaker, and they looked around for a statute that shoehorned their conduct into and sent that to Google and said "turn over the information."
KIRO notes that "Google and YouTube are far more likely to cough up an anonymous animator's real name when there's a criminal case, as opposed to just an internal affairs investigation into some personnel issues." On July 28 King County Superior Court Judge James Cayce approved a warrant demanding information about Mr. Fuddlesticks from Google, based on the allegation that the cartoons constitute cyberstalking, a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Under Washington law, "A person is guilty of cyberstalking if he or she, with intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass any other person…makes an electronic communication to such other person or a third party (a) using any lewd, lascivious, indecent, or obscene words, images, or language, or suggesting the commission of any lewd or lascivious act; (b) anonymously or repeatedly whether or not conversation occurs; or (c) threatening to inflict injury on the person or property of the person called or any member of his or her family or household." In their warrant application, Renton police claimed the cartoons meet criterion (a).
So far the city attorney and the police department have not responded to the TV station's requests for comment. KIRO has posted two of the cartoons and is asking viewers to pass along others.