A new court case that is being handled by the Institute for Justice is focusing on whether police departments can dispatch officers to arrest someone who is making fun of police.
The IJ explains, “The First Amendment protects the right of every American to criticize the government and its officials. That criticism often comes in the form of jokes and parody parodies, and, in the era of social media, it is often accomplished online. But unlike most government officials, police can use their power to directly silence critics by jailing them—at least in Ohio, as well as in Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee.”
The IJ said its appeal to the Supreme Court is asking whether “freedom of speech actually protects Americans or whether police can arrest you for what you post on Facebook.”
Patrick Jaicomo, a lawyer for IJ, said, “Anthony Novak was arrested, jailed, and prosecuted because he made fun of his local police department on Facebook.
“Razzing police isn’t a crime; it’s protected by the First Amendment. In fact, parodies like those Anthony posted have an American history going back to the time of George Washington. The Supreme Court should make it clear that qualified immunity cannot protect police officers who punish people for exercising the freedom of speech.”
The case got started when Novak created a page to make fun of police in Parma, Ohio, who were “long fraught with problems,” the IJ said.
“That post and the five that followed it mocked the department’s reputation for heavy-handed tactics and other questionable policing. Unexpectedly, Anthony’s parody received a lot of views. By the end of the day, a police spokesman was on local television assuring the public that the page was fake and threatening a criminal investigation into Facebook page. Because of that threat, Anthony took down the page. It had been up about 12 hours,” the IJ reported.
But three weeks later, in the middle of the night, his home was raided and police seized everything he had that could connect to the internet, the legal team said.
That included his roommate’s devices and video game consoles.
Police accused him of disrupting operations.
He spent four days in jail before getting out, and at trial, was found not guilty.
After his acquittal, he sued the officers, but the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said he could not hold them accountable for their actions.
“Why? Because, even though the court acknowledged that parody was protected by the Constitution, no previous case had held that Anthony’s specific speech was. IJ’s petition to the Supreme Court asks the court to take up Anthony’s case and decide whether government officials are entitled to qualified immunity when they arrest someone based purely on speech. More broadly, it asks the Supreme Court to do away with qualified immunity altogether.
He said, “I sued to hold the police accountable for violating my rights, but also to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else, My Facebook page was obviously a joke, but the criticism was serious. I hope the Supreme Court will take my case and put other lice forces on notice by making it clear that what happened to me was wrong.