PEORIA – A man whose home was raided in response to a parody Twitter account he set up in the name of Peoria's mayor is suing the city, the mayor and the police chief, alleging authorities violated his constitutional rights to free speech.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Peoria by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which is representing the account's creator, 29-year-old Jonathan Daniel. The filing calls the account a "satiric form of expression protected by the First Amendment" and says no one could have reasonably thought the tweets actually came from the mayor.
"The joke of the account was to have my fictional mayor saying things that no one would possibly think that Mayor Jim Ardis would say," Daniel said in a written statement released Thursday. "If the mayor was concerned, all he had to do was tell the public that this was not his account and not his words, rather than involving the police."
Daniel set up the account in March using the handle @peoriamayor along with Ardis's official photo. In crude language, the tweets talked about sex, drugs and alcohol. A few days later he labeled the account a parody, something Twitter requires.
Police following up on a criminal complaint from the mayor raided Daniel's home on April 15 even though by then Twitter had suspended the account in response to threats of legal action from city officials. The raid sparked complaints from residents that the mayor had abused his powers.
Officers seized computers, cellphones and other electronic devices and arrested several of his roommates and their guests. Daniel, who was not home, was arrested the same day at his workplace.
About a week later, prosecutors announced they would not charge him, saying Daniel had not violated the Illinois law against impersonating public officials.
Responding to the lawsuit, the mayor said Thursday that he felt the man behind the account had stolen his identity, threatened his reputation and impinged on his own freedoms.
He noted that the account included the city logo and the mayor's actual address and contact information.
"Anyone reading the content would assume they were reading my comments as mayor," Ardis said in a statement.
Daniel says he created the account mainly for his own entertainment and the amusement of his friends and had no intention of deceiving people. It had only a handful of followers.