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Ohio Man Arrested for Mocking Cops Files First Amendment Lawsuit

Anthony Novak's parody of the Parma Police Department's Facebook page prompted a felony prosecution.

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Parma Police Department

This week Anthony Novak, the man who was arrested for creating a parody of the Parma, Ohio, police department's Facebook page, filed a federal lawsuit accusing seven officers of violating his constitutional rights by using the legal system to punish him for making fun of them. Last month Novak was acquitted of using a computer and the internet to "disrupt, interrupt, or impair" police services, a felony punishable by up to 18 months in prison. Now he is trying to get some compensation from the city for the injuries inflicted by that trumped-up charge, arguing that the cops did not have probable cause to arrest him or search his apartment. He also argues that the statute used to prosecute him is "unconstitutionally overbroad because it provides the police unfettered discretion to wrongfully arrest and charge civilians in the State of Ohio with a crime for exercising their First Amendment rights."

There is some tension between those two arguments, because if the law is as vague as Novak claims, police arguably did have probable cause to believe he had violated it. Either way, it should have been obvious to them that their vendetta against Novak was unconstitutional. It also should have been obvious to the municipal judge(s) who obligingly issued the warrants that police sought, the local prosecutors who pursued the case, and the judge who oversaw the trial after rejecting Novak's argument that his prosecution was inconsistent with the First Amendment.

Novak's parody, which he posted on March 1 and deleted on March 3 after the Parma Police Department issued an indignant press release about it, copied the logo from the department's actual Facebook page but was in other respects notably different. It included notices announcing "our official stay inside and catch up with the family day," during which anyone venturing outside between noon and 9 p.m. would be arrested; advertising a "Pedophile Reform event" where sex offenders who visited all of the "learning stations" could qualify to be removed from the state's sex offender registry; and offering teenagers abortions, to be performed in a van in the parking lot of a local supermarket "using an experimental technique discovered by the Parma Police Department." There was also a warning that anyone caught feeding the homeless would go to jail as part of "an attempt to have the homeless population eventually leave our city due to starvation," along with an ad seeking applicants for jobs with the police department that said "Parma is an equal opportunity employer but is strongly encouraging minorities to not apply."

Parma Police Department

The police were not amused. "The Parma Police Department would like to warn the public that a fake Parma Police Facebook page has been created," said a Facebook notice posted on March 2. "This matter is currently being investigated by the Parma Police Department and Facebook. This is the Parma Police Department's official Facebook page. The public should disregard any and all information posted on the fake Facebook account. The individual(s) who created this fake account are not employed by the police department in any capacity and were never authorized to post information on behalf of the department."

Despite the implication that people might think cops really were performing abortions in a van or really did plan to promote family togetherness by forcibly confining people to their homes, it is hard to believe anyone mistook the parody for the real thing. "The Facebook page was not reasonably believable as conveying the voice or messages of the City of Parma Police Department," Novak's complaint notes. "Mr. Novak had no intention of deceiving people into believing that the account was actually operated by a representative of the police department, and no reasonable person could conclude such an intent from the content of the page."

Parma police nevertheless launched an investigation that involved at least seven officers, a subpoena and three search warrants, and a raid on Novak's apartment, during which the cops surprised his roommate on the toilet and seized two hard drives, a laptop, two tablets, two cellphones, and two video game systems. After his arrest on March 25, Novak spent four days in jail before he got out on bail, and then he had to report weekly to a probation officer if he wanted to keep his freedom.

Explaining the justification for Novak's arrest, Lt. Kevin Riley, a department spokesman and one of the officers named in the lawsuit, said "the material that Novak posted on the fake account crossed the line from satire to an actual risk to public safety." How so? Riley complained that "Novak posted derogatory and inflammatory information that purported to be from the Parma Police Department." The cops knew it was inflammatory because people had posted negative comments about the department on the parody page, including "Fuck the Parma Police."

It was obvious how Novak had offended the police but not so clear how he had disrupted police services. Even after settling on that charge, Novak's lawsuit notes, the cops had no "supportive evidence or facts that any of the functions of the Parma Police Department had been disrupted or that Mr. Novak intended his Facebook page to in fact disrupt any function of the Parma Police Department." When they applied for a search warrant demanding that Facebook surrender the records associated with the parody page, the cops "failed to mention any function or service that Mr. Novak purportedly disrupted." The post-arrest press release likewise "mentioned nothing about any police function that Mr. Novak intentionally disrupted through the exercise of his constitutional rights."

Someone in the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office evidently had second thoughts about the case, because Novak was offered a plea deal under which the felony charge would have been reduced to an unspecified misdemeanor. Novak turned the offer down, by that point eager to have his day in court. By the time his trial rolled around, prosecutors had settled on the theory that Novak's Facebook gag had disrupted police services by generating phone calls to the police department—a grand total of 10 in 12 hours. The jury did not buy it, and everyone who was involved in the case should have known better than to let it get that far.

To this day Riley maintains that "we were just doing our job." Which is true, if you assume a cop's job includes hunting down online speech that offends him, making sure it is scrubbed from the internet, and trying to imprison the people responsible for it.

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  1. Either way, it should have been obvious to them that their vendetta against Novak was unconstitutional. It also should have been obvious to the municipal judge(s) who obligingly issued the warrants the police sought, the local prosecutors who pursued the case, and the judge who oversaw the trial after rejecting Novak’s argument that his prosecution was inconsistent with the First Amendment.

    That assumes that the above mentioned people actually give a shit about the constitution. They don’t. The constitution is nothing but an impediment to their power.

    1. The Constitution is supposed to be an impediment to their power and that pissed off some Federalist Founding Fathers too, when they were in office.

      These current power hungry fascists do not want Rule of Law. They want the police state to have sweeping power that is not answerable to the unsoiled masses.

      1. Come now, I certainly hope that no one here agrees with the outrageous “First Amendment dissent” of a single, isolated, liberal judge in America’s leading criminal “satire” case, documented at:

        http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

        As the New York Court of Appeals made clear, it is legitimate to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate someone who engages in an act of inappropriately deadpan (and hence deceitful) “parody” with the intent of damaging a reputation. Apparently, Mr. Novak was found innocent of doing that, but it was perfectly normal to put the facts in this case before a jury of knowledgeable citizens. Indeed, anyone who wishes to engage in “parody,” in our nation of ordered liberty, should be careful to overtly label his work as such, unless he wishes to risk going to jail.

    2. Qualified immunity for cops and Absolute immunity for prosecutors feeds this kind of blindness to the Constution and the legitimate acts of citizens.

  2. The Facebook, it mocks me. I will not be mocked.

  3. It also should have been obvious to the municipal judge(s) who obligingly issued the warrants the police sought, the local prosecutors who pursued the case, and the judge who oversaw the trial after rejecting Novak’s argument that his prosecution was inconsistent with the First Amendment….
    …prosecutors had settled on the theory that Novak’s Facebook gag had disrupted police services by generating phone calls to the police department?a grand total of 10 in 12 hours.

    There is no good faith here. Everyone here should have known. Did know, in fact, what the law requires. They just didn’t care. They don’t serve the law. The law exists to serve them.

    1. Has everyone forgotten about the legal principle of l?se-majest??

      1. yes, mockery of the King or the King’s Men will not be tolerated

    2. They never had the law on their side. The big tragedy here is that every check and balance, in this case, were corrupt government tools and none of them demanded that there actually be a violation of law for a criminal charge to proceed.

      End absolute immunity for judges and prosecutors.

      1. ^This.

        But not just them, all government employees and contractors acting as government employees (prison guards, ticket writers, etc).

        You’re new here. Welcome aboard. Don’t go anywhere alone with Warty. Uncontrollable vomiting is normal when you read anything by Sugarfree.

        1. I have been strategically dropping gems (haha) for 6 months or so but thanks for the warm welcome.

          Quite a few witty jokes and well thought out positions on here. For the Libertarians, you are used to having to defend Rule of Law, freedom, Liberty and free market- so I see quite a few season warriors on here.

          I have my tray table up and my vomit bag at the ready!

          1. You will fit-in well.

  4. This is why we need robots in charge. I dunno why people tend to imagine that apocaltptically. Following rules is what computers do.

    1. Asimov looms large.

      1. I stopped having any interest in Asimov around sixteen. They’re all kids books (the “sex” scenes read like a prepubescent who walked in on his parents trying to figure out what its all about)

        1. Consider the context of when and where these stories were published. Sci-Fi was barely respectable, and including sex scenes would have made things worse for everyone.

    2. Apocalyptically

  5. if the law is as vague as Novak claims, police arguably did have probable cause to believe he had violated it.

    A modest proposal: Any legislator who writes, sponsors, votes aye on, or signs into existence a law that is found to be unconstitutional is disbarred upon such ruling.

    1. Disbarred ? If that means stripped of their worldly goods and exiled, then yes.

      1. Yes, that’s what this vaguely-worded proposal actually means.

      2. stripped of their worldly goods and exiled, then yes.

        Do all of the legislator’s constituents get to take turns tearing off a piece of their shirt and spitting on them before sending them off on a horse with a bucket on their head?

        1. On a horse? Dragged behind a horse. Remains shoved through a woodchipper.

    2. Plus, persons tried and acquitted or convicted under those laws deemed unconstitutional, get reparations.

    3. Make legislative authors and those who vote for it personally responsible for its legal defense.

      As for the judges, prosecutors, and police, allow juries to boomerang the charges — hold the prosecution team liable as if guilty of the maximum punishment they intended to inflict.

  6. if it was actually a parody, that badge clip-art would read “Defective”.

  7. Reality check: Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.

    1. Political power is enforced by the barrel of a gun.

      Try telling progs that any of these stupid Nanny-State laws they want, could technically be enforced with someone dying. If you resist the laws of the state, the state has varying degrees of immunity to kill you.

      Let that sink in.

      This is why laws should only be on the books when most of the relevant legislature agrees. I am for 2/3 or 3/4 majority requirements for laws and budgets.

  8. Parma, Ohio is well known to trample on the rights of citizens. They are continuously sued, and the players running the city always remain. Suing is not a consequence to the kings of Parma. We have gotten rid of Tim Mcginty the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor in Parma, as of 2017 the Parma Safety Director will take his position, NOT GOOD!!!

  9. “Parma?!!” /fans of Ghoulardi

    1. Oh, Yes. The Ghoul.

      Why can’t I shake the image of the Parma police down at the station house dancing to a polka tune?

  10. Fucking pigs can’t take a joke.

  11. I can’t wait until all government employee pensions vanish.

  12. Parma is in Ohio? I always thought that it was in the Algol system. At least until the Great Collapse happened…

  13. Oh the lovely part is, even if this is ruled in his favor, it will be money from the taxpayer’s pockets, and NO ONE will be help personally liable for this.

    That is my number one libertarian dream: someone to come along and get rid of immunity for pigs, prosecutors, and judges that pull this kind of shit. Make them personally liable and subject to prison.

    That is the ONE and only way this bullshit will ever end, and it will never happen in my lifetime. That a sad sad sad thought.

  14. Long live Froggy!

  15. These prosecutors, at least, are just whores for their local police.

  16. Thou Shalt Not mock the Stasi.

  17. Dammit you can mock the president with impugnity. Do the Parma PD think they are more important than Obarmy?
    Hmm, perhaps they are!

    I hope he gets his compensation.

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