Settlement reached in “Twittergate” dispute

Case to be resolved with payment to @peoriamayor creator

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
September 3, 2015 9:00 am

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Chicago – Jon Daniel, the Peoria man who had his home raided and was arrested after he created a Twitter account that parodied the City’s Mayor, has agreed to settle his lawsuit against the City in return for a cash settlement and a directive from the City to the Peoria Police Department, a directive designed to insure that others are not retaliated for their speech. The City will pay Jon Daniel and his legal team a total of $125,000 to resolve the lawsuit. The Peoria City Council is expected to approve the settlement at its regular meeting on Tuesday, September 8th.

The City also will post a directive to the Peoria Police Department that makes clear that state law criminalizing impersonation of a public official does not include parody and satire. Specifically, the directive notes that “The First Amendment protects many forms of online speech, including Parody and Satire when the parody or satire is reasonably perceived.” The agreement, reached with the assistance of federal court, will bring an end the controversy that erupted in Peoria in 2014.

“I am satisfied with the outcome in this case,” said Jon Daniel, who created the parody account in March of 2014. “I always thought that the twitter account was a joke for me and for my friends.”

“I never dreamed that it would result in my home being raided and me being placed under arrest,” added Daniel.

The events that have been dubbed “Twittergate” began on March 9, 2014, when Mr. Daniel created the Twitter account @peoriamayor. Mr. Daniel created the account mainly for his own entertainment and the amusement of his friends, whom he thought would be surprised to receive a re-tweet from the @peoriamayor account. Over the next ten days, Mr. Daniel retweeted and favorited posts from friends, and also issued a series of tweets from the account — which he clearly labeled parody several days after it was created — that used informal language, slang and even expletives.

“Hurt feelings do not free government from the responsibility of respecting Mr. Daniel’s freedom of speech and freedom from being arrested for that speech,” said Karen Sheley, senior staff counsel at the ACLU of Illinois in announcing the settlement. “The First Amendment applies equally to on-line speech.”

“The directive makes clear that parody should never be the predicate for a criminal investigation and that the action against Mr. Daniel should never be repeated again,” added Sheley.

Even after the account had been suspended and no new messages were sent, the police involvement continued. On April 15th, Peoria police executed a search warrant on Mr. Daniel’s home. While Mr. Daniel was at work when the police arrived, his roommates and other friends were present at the home. The police searched the home, took a number of computers, telephones and other electronic devices into their possession, including Mr. Daniel’s computer, as well as a laptop and Xbox.

“This case was critically important,” said Marc Beem, a partner at the Chicago law firm of Miller Shakman & Beem LLP that assisted the ACLU in this matter. “We hope that every municipality across the State is watching and learning that police investigations based solely on parody are not permitted under our Constitution.”

“In the end, this has been a very important civics lesson for residents and the leadership of Peoria,” added Everett Cygal, a lawyer at the Chicago office of Schiff Hardin LLP that also was part of Mr. Daniel’s legal team. “It also is good that we have brought this matter to a close for Mr. Daniel, who suffered as a result of the City’s actions.”

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