Renton, Washington: Where Cartoons Are a Bigger Offense Than Gross Abuses of Police Power


In a follow-up to yesterday's KIRO-TV story about the Renton, Washington, police department's pursuit of the online parodist known as "Mr. Fuddlesticks," Renton Patch reports that Deputy Chief Charles Marsalisi "was recently demoted to sergeant over his role in or knowledge of" Mr. Fuddlesticks' Xtranormal cartoons mocking the department and alluding to recent internal affairs investigations. Meanwhile, according to documents (PDF) obtained by the Patch, Deputy Chief Tim Troxel merely lost a day's pay for asking an on-duty officer to stake out the home of a girlfriend he suspected of cheating on him. That contrast gives you a sense of the professional milieu that gave rise to the cartoons. 

The Patch says one set of cartoons, uploaded in January, triggered the internal investigation that led to Marsalisi's demotion, which presumably was the inspiration for the "Locker Room Parody" cartoon I quoted yesterday, in which the cop character wonders "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." The police did not claim that the first set of cartoons constituted a crime. But in their July 28 application for a search warrant demanding information about Mr. Fuddlesticks from Google, they say a second set, uploaded in April, amounts to "cyberstalking" because the cartoons include "embarrassing and emotionally tormenting comments about past sexual relationships or dating relationships" involving three city employees. That definition of cyberstalking is broad enough to encompass, say, criticism of Deputy Chief Troxel for using official police resources to spy on his girlfriend (who was also a city employee).

Washington state's definition of the crime is indeed broad, so broad that it is hard to reconcile with the First Amendment. The part on which the Renton investigation hinges makes it a gross misdemeanor to transmit "an electronic communication" with "intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass any other person" when the communication includes "any lewd, lascivious, indecent, or obscene words, images, or language, or suggesting the commission of any lewd or lascivious act." KIRO has added to its collection of Mr. Fuddlesticks cartoons since yesterday, so you can judge for yourself whether any of the six available here qualify as a crime under this definition. If they do, it's the law that needs to go, not the cartoons.

The cartoons do repeatedly refer to sexual relationships, but their main target is waste, incompetence, misconduct, and a culture that tolerates them. ("Job Tips Parody," which seems to be the last of the cartoons, gives a pretty comprehensive summary of Mr. Fuddlesticks' complaints.) One of the funniest aspects of the scandal is that the cartoons never identify the department or name any real people, so in order to get upset about them Renton police officials had to recognize themselves as the bureaucratic buffoons lampooned by Mr. Fuddlesticks. In one of the cartoons, "Reprimand Parody," which takes place on Xtranormal's rendering of a late-night talk show set, a police chief in a cowboy hat scolds a cop for making satirical videos about the department:

Chief: I want you to stop, or else face the consequences.

Cop: What kind of consequences do you mean? Do you mean that I may get a few days off without pay?

Chief: It will be more than that.

Cop: Are you saying that speaking my opinion in public about the government or disclosing activities of the government, both protected under the United States Constitution, will have me facing consequences worse than [if I were] having sexual relations with a homicide suspect while disclosing the criminal investigation to the suspect?

Chief: That has nothing to do with your comments. 

Cop: Are you saying that my punishment will be greater than if I had used department resources to stalk and conduct police surveillance of citizens, girlfriends, and wives?

Chief: That has nothing to do with your comments.

Cop: Are you saying that my punishment will—

Chief: Just hold on a minute. I got your point. Just go away.

In an interview late last month, by the way, Police Chief Kevin Milosevich confessed that he was facing "unprecedented" personnel issues and directly contradicted the "Locker Room Parody" bureaucrat, who says, "The department does not like laundry being aired in public." By contrast, Milosevich told the Renton Patch, "We have to air our dirty laundry." See? The department has nothing to hide.

[Thanks to Fire Tiger for the tip.]

NEXT: Eminent Domain in the Old Dominion

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Jonathan Mardukas: That whole fuckin’ department was corrupt!
    Jonathan Mardukas: There’s good and bad everywhere, don’t you think?
    Jack Walsh: Eh, well, I’d say there’s bad everywhere. Good I don’t know about.

    (awesome, awesome movie)

  2. I am now firmly in the Dunphy is Fuddlesticks camp.

    1. No. Dunphy would get the legislature to fix their laws that allow these cops to misbehave. He wouldn’t be so underhanded as to try doing something behind the legislature’s back.

      1. mmmmm…pig dick. Yum.

        1. i’ve actually made the claim, several times at Volokh.com that WA’s cyberstalking law is uncontitutional – overbroad amongst other things.

          it, like most kneejerk internet related legislation, is ridiculous.

          i would hope a nice fat lawsuit as well as a repeal of our cyberstalking law would be nice

      2. and for the record (as somebody who has long claimed (at volokh.com amongst other places) that the cyberstalking law is unconstitutional…

        here’s a pop quiz: who is responsible for such exceptionally bad law as this?

        answer: THE (liberal nannystate) LEGISLATURE.

        feel free to search at volokh.com. my name is “whit”. i have commented extensively on the stupidity and dangerousness as well as unconstitutionality of this law.

        it was not a matter of WHETHER shit like this would happen. it was a matter of WHEN.

        laws give power to the state. stupid unconstitutional laws give WAY too much power to the state. this is a perfect example

        1. Ha, but you didn’t refute the allegation!

          1. “have you stopped beating your wife?”

  3. “intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass any other person”

    Oh, the humanity!

    1. Isn’t that pretty much a standard job description for 99% of government jobs?

  4. I sure hope “Mr. Fuddlesticks” doesn’t have a dog.

    1. I am a dog.

        1. Great picture. Thanks!

  5. Milosevich told the Renton Patch, “We have to air our dirty laundry.” See? The department has nothing to hide.

    Departments cannot be trusted to investigate themselves. Without reliable external accountability (way beyond IA), the problems listed here will continue.

  6. a gross misdemeanor to transmit “an electronic communication” with “intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass any other person” when the communication includes “any lewd, lascivious, indecent, or obscene words, images, or language, or suggesting the commission of any lewd or lascivious act.”

    Guess I’m fucked.

    1. Yeah, and so is the press. How would you write an investigative piece about, say, the Renton PD, without posting online articles that “suggest the commission of any lewd or lascivious act” by these Klown Kops?

      That’s how vague the statute is.

      1. yup. it’s BLATANTLY unconstitutional

  7. Deputy Chief Tim Troxel merely lost a day’s pay for asking an on-duty officer to stake out the home of a girlfriend he suspected of cheating on him.

    Why wasn’t he charged with “theft of services” and forced to reimburse the city?


    I crack myself up.

    1. Just a minute. Maybe Troxel also suspected the girlfriend of being a drug kingpin.

    2. So apparently “cyberstalking” is worse than “actual stalking”.

      1. Worse. Mr. Fuddlesticks is guilty of disrespecting “authoritah.” As you know, disrespecting “authoritah” is a crime punishable by death. No doubt if the identity of Mr. Fuddlesticks is ever revealed, the arresting officers will find him to be “combative” and use ever appropriate “procedure” based on the “force continuum” to subdue him.

        And they’ll shoot his dog.

      2. Obviously. It’s “cyber.”

  8. Seriously. If you feel a need to stake out your gf/bf to determine if they’re cheating on you? Just move on. Ferchistssake.

    1. +1

      And, I might add, using your badge as justification/access to cyberstalk her says a lot (to me, anyway) about why she might just not be that into you anymore.

  9. Fuddlesticks for President!

  10. I only watched the first half of the first one, but it seems that to be offended by these cartoons, you’d have to stay awake during the whole thing, which would be a herculean task.

    1. Most of the Xtranormal videos are painfully boring, the quantitative easing video with “The Ben Bernank” being an exception to the rule.

      1. Because only a handful of people can actually write engaging dialog.

        1. I’m a fan of Praxeology Girl’s writers.


          1. hmm…newfound interest in praxeology!

  11. Is that dude’s name really Milosevich? Do they have Sgt. Mengele and a lieutenant Beria there, too?


  12. Hate to risk the Tip Thanks, but I read the “24 hours without pay” as 24 working hours or 3 days pay.

    1. Hate to risk the Tip Thanks

      Risk the what? The “tip thanks”?

      1. Just the tip, thanks.

        1. Oh, I just realized this guy was thanked by Jacob Sullum for the story tip. I’d stared at the capitalized phrase “Tip Thanks,” pondered it, even looked it up on Google, and couldn’t make heads or tails of what he meant. Now I get it. Sorry!

  13. a gross misdemeanor to transmit “an electronic communication” with “intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass any other person” when the communication includes “any lewd, lascivious, indecent, or obscene words, images, or language, or suggesting the commission of any lewd or lascivious act.”

    And I would like to remind everyone that Washington State is largely controlled by liberal Democrats.

    1. So no more campaign commercials?

    2. yes, and it’s liberal democrats who tend to write unconstitutionally overbroad 1st amendment encroaching crap like this.

      i’ve claimed at least a half dozen times at volokh.com that this law is facially unconstitutional

      imo, it’s not even a close question.

  14. What I want to know is this: is Google standing strong and not givimg up the info in response to this blatant abuse of authoritah?

    1. Not if they receive a National Security Letter.

    2. Good question, I’d be interested to find out, but I doubt they’d want to spend the money and go through the hassle to fight this…. just one guy, and it’s not an easy fight.

    3. Considering that the warrant was issued in Washington and the actual location named in the warrant is in California, Google could tell them to take their warrant and stick it where the sun don’t shine.

      1. I’m wondering the same thing, will GOOG cave? CEO Schmidt is Obama’s butt buddy, so I think they’ll cave in the name of The Authority of the State. I would be happy to be wrong about this. Obama’s DOJ never defends the individual against this type of abuse.

  15. Thou shalt not mock the State!

  16. Threadjack:


    Sean Avery attacked a cop in LA.

    Being forced to like Sean Avery may result in me dousing myself in gasoline and setting myself on fire.

    1. I met him at Bonnaroo. He gave me a beer and was as much of a dick as my normal friends. Not really that bad a guy.

    2. He was suspended by the National Hockey League after he told a reporter that a Calgary Flames player who was dating Cuthbert, his ex, was “falling in love with sloppy seconds”.

      He was suspended for making hockey briefly interesting?

  17. i’ve said several times that our liberal nannystate legislature passed an unconstitutional cyberstalking law. it’s ridiculous. grossly overbroad and groslly violative of the 1st amendment.

    that aside, some of the stuff in the article is pretty funny, like the claim that the dept. should be concerned about , amongst other things “adultery”. that’s just stupid.

    1. And did you say that all on volokh.com?

      1. yes. my username there is “whit”. feel free to research. i have friends with Renton PD. i will be promptly making fun of them online and see if they charge me with “cyberstalking”

        1. So, considering that you correctly peg this as blatantly unconstitutional, you’d refuse to enforce it if directed to, right?

          1. yes. an unconstitutional violation thereof, of course.

            as i’ve mentioned several times, we routinely get calls from parents who want to “seek prosecution” because somebody made fun of their precious daughter on a facebook or myspace page.

            and i explain that “making fun of people is protected by the 1st amendment” and they are free to contact facebook/myspace which are private companies and seek to have the offending comments or page removed, but that it’s beyond state control

            i’ve mentioned this a few times, the “oh my precious daughter is being made fun of on facebook” complaint

            btw, there is a civil tort for “intentional infliction of emotional distress” that may apply in some situations.

        2. That was a dig at you, dunphy. You’ve repeated that four times in this thread.

          1. it’s part of my chahm

  18. here’s the warrant affidavit.


    1. One of the take aways from the warrant is that Google has already provided information on Mr Fiddlesticks to the Renton PD. They provided his email address in response to a prior warrant.

  19. No one did this, but I’ll offend the Renton, WA PD.

    Fuck the Renton, WA PD.

    1. CYBERSTALKER!!!!!

  20. and here I thought they were cartoons about the portland police bureau…go figure.

  21. check out http://www.fuddlesticks.com for updated information on this incredibly stupid police quest for Mr Fuddlesticks. There is not a massive public records request against the City of Renton, all documents being put on the http://www.fuddlesticks.com website.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.