Criminal Justice

Jury Acquits Ohio Man Who Was Arrested for Making Fun of Police

Cops and prosecutors claimed Anthony Novak committed a felony when he created a Facebook parody.

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Parma Police Department

Last Thursday an Ohio jury acquitted Anthony Novak, a 27-year-old man whom Parma police arrested last spring for making fun of them. After hearing one day of testimony, the jurors unanimously concluded that Novak did not "disrupt public services," a felony punishable by up to 18 months in prison, when he created a parody of the Parma Police Department's Facebook page.

Novak's fake Facebook page, which changed the department's slogan from "We know crime" to "We no crime," included a job notice saying that anyone who passed a "15 question multiple choice definition test followed by a hearing test" would be "be accepted as an officer" but that the department "is strongly encouraging minorities to not apply." The Toledo Blade says the page "suggested it would be illegal to help the homeless for three months" and outlined "ways sex offenders could have their names taken off the state sex offender database." There was also a notice saying the department was offering teenagers free abortions "using an experimental technique discovered by the Parma Police Department" in "a police van in the parking lot at Giant Eagle," a local grocery store.

When they arrested Novak in March, Parma police complained that his jokes were "derogatory" and "inflammatory." After Novak was indicted in April, a department spokesman said, "We believe the material that Novak posted on the fake account crossed the line from satire to an actual risk to public safety."

During Novak's trial the prosecution said the problem was that the parody, which was online for less than a day and attracted fewer than 100 followers, generated calls to the police department: all of 10 in 12 hours. Apparently the jury did not think that call volume was so overwhelming that it prevented police from attending to more important duties. "They claimed that those calls disrupted their dispatch function," Novak's lawyer, Gary Vick, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "even though the function of dispatch is to take calls and deal with the public."

Novak spent three days in jail before he was released on bail of $7,500, and police seized his electronic devices, including a laptop computer and two game consoles. "I feel totally relieved," he told The Plain Dealer on Friday. "I didn't realize how much stress this was creating in my life until it was over. I was pretty much nervous for five months."

Novak plans to sue the police department and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office for violating his First Amendment rights. "I absolutely want them to pay for this," he said. "The whole ordeal was absolutely ridiculous. They shouldn't be allowed to get away with something like this." Elizabeth Bonham, staff attorney with the ACLU of Ohio, thinks Novak has a strong case. She told The Plain Dealer Novak's actions were "so clearly protected by the First Amendment that the criminal proceedings shouldn't have even come this far."

Addendum: In a similar case last fall, the city of Peoria, Illinois, agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by Jon Daniel, who was arrested on suspicion of impersonating a public official after he set up a parody Twitter account that made fun of Mayor Jim Ardis. Unlike Novak, Daniel was never actually prosecuted, because the local state's attorney recognized that he had not broken the law. Daniel nevertheless got $125,000 for his trouble, which suggests Novak's payout could be substantially higher.

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  1. Holy crap I’m furst!! (Dances) Also glad I left that shithole that is Ohio

  2. Let’s see…. a judge working in a government court…. probably a former prosecutor…. holding a prosecutor’s office accountable for blatant violations of some poor sap’s first amendment rights?

    I kinda want to do the big, all-caps “HA-HA-HA-HA!” for about 3 lines on that one.

    If “prosecutorial immunity” extends to an entire prosecutor’s office conspiring to violate multiple criminal defendant’s rights, I don’t see how maliciously prosecuting one guy is gonna do it.

    And the department? Hmmm… the prosecutor did bring charges…… kinda cover’s their butt for them, doesn’t it?

    The guy should have an open-and-shut case for the two departments and all individuals involved to be paying both compensatory and punitive damages. But instead he’ll probably get another run through the FYTY wringer.

  3. As with the brickbat this morning; No one is saying that you don’t have rights. It is spelled out right there in the constitution. All they are saying is that exercising those rights will get you 18 mos. in prison.

  4. This guy is going to have to beat the lawyers away with a fucking stick.

  5. interview (video) http://www.cleveland.com/court…..rt_m-rpt-1

  6. “I absolutely want them to pay for this,” he said. “The whole ordeal was absolutely ridiculous. They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with something like this.”

    What exactly is it you think the taxpayers of Parma are trying to get away with? The cops and the prosecutors are going to get away with fucking with you and sticking the taxpayers with paying for the consequences – do you think they didn’t already know they were playing a no-lose game? Nobody’s learning a lesson here except for would-be critics of the government, which chilling effect was the intended lesson all along.

    1. Don’t forget the other lesson: The process IS the punishment.

      Even if the can’t lock you up they can still make your life hell…

    2. This is what i was thinking. Unless he can get those officers fired abd all future wages garnished until they pay back then they are not paying for anything.

      1. the most you can hope for is that the lawsuits become to much and the citizens FINALLY say enough is enough. The citizens doing nothing is the problem. This trial has set a precedent, and that may be the total outcome, but at least he fought. People not fighting the system has created a seriously corrupt system.

  7. Parma, OH police are like Hitler’s brownshirts, always anxious to use unnecessary force. Twenty years ago they cemented forever my natural dislike for pigs into hatred.

    Unfortunately any settlement will come from taxpayers who are likewise abused by the blue mafia. There needs to be some personal accountability for the pigs and the Persecutor.

  8. Parma, Ohio… 21 lawsuits of civil rights violations since 2001. This year they assaulted a 16 yr old and lied about it, tasered a mailman that was having a seizure 12x, a victim who called the police was “escorted to the grass” along the way he broke many bones and now free speech….glad he went with a jury!

    1. And those are just the cases that come to public attention. So many bruises and broken bones go unreported.

    2. tasered a mailman that was having a seizure 12x

      That’s some impressive police work right there

      1. we like to call them little dictators

  9. Parma police are cheesy.

    What a bunch of sensitive babies.

    They deserve all the mockery that goes their way.

  10. 100 followers in one day? This guy is my hero.

  11. Cleveland jury doesn’t let us down

  12. “…generated calls to the police department: all of 10 in 12 hours.”

    All of which had to be along the lines of: “Hey, did you know there is a parody of your Facebook page up and running?”

  13. Other people failing to recognize a parody for what it is, resulting in the jokester’s arrest seems kind of like an end-run around the whole “freedom of speech” thing.

    And if this article represents the case accurately, apparently no-one thought that punishing one person for the deeds of others was a big deal. Including the jury. At least if the argument actually relied on how much disruption was created by the parody.

    The judge should have thrown this out immediately, but instead the tax payers get to pay for the entire three ring circus (twice) when the guy sues the PD.

    Libertarian moment!

  14. I wonder what kind of a plea deal he was offered. My guess about the felony charge is that it stemmed from his insistence on putting the system to the trouble of trial by jury.

  15. how much longer until the powers that be decided juries don’t have the right to come back with a verdict contrary to their whims?

  16. “They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with something like this.”

    HAHAHAHHAHAHHAHHAHA HAH AH AHAHAHAHHAHAHA

    **breathes deeply**

    AHHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHA AH AHA AH A AHA AHA

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