The First Amendment applies in Peoria, Illinois, right?
Jon Daniel, the creator of the parody Twitter account that caused all the commotion
Jon Daniel woke up on Thursday morning to a news crew in his living room, which was a welcome change from the company he had on Tuesday night, when the Peoria, Illinois, police came crashing through the door. The officers tore the 28-year-old's home apart, seizing electronics and taking several of his roommates in for questioning; one woman who lived there spent three hours in an interrogation room. All for a parody Twitter account.
Yes, the cops raided Daniel's home because they wanted to find out who was behind @peoriamayor, an account that had been shut down weeks ago by Twitter. When it was active, Daniel used it to portray Jim Ardis, the mayor of Peoria, as a weed-smoking, stripper-loving, Midwestern answer to Rob Ford. The account never had more than 50 followers, and Twitter had killed it because it wasn't clearly marked as a parody. It was a joke, a lark—but it brought the police to Daniel's door. The cops even took Daniel and one of his housemates in for in-depth questioning—they showed up at their jobs, cuffed them, and confiscated their phones—because of a bunch of Twitter jokes.
Now Daniel's panicking.
"I'm going to fucking jail," he told me yesterday when he was on a break from his job as a line cook. "They're going to haul me away for this shit."
They might. No one was arrested for Twitter-related charges on Tuesday (though one roommate was pinched for having a few ounces of weed), and no charges have been officially filed yet, but that doesn't mean they won't be. The media have raised the profile of this incident more than the mayor and police would probably like—there was the news crew at Daniel's house, and a story about the raid appeared in the Los Angeles Times—but who knows if that will shame Ardis into apologizing?
Authorities seem to believe that Daniel was "impersonating a public official," to use a bit of legalese, a misdemeanor that's punishable by up to a year behind bars. Steve Settingsgaard, the chief of police, has been quoted as saying that "it appears someone went to great lengths to make it appear it was actually from the mayor." This dastardly impersonation of a 50-something public official included such tweets as:
Peoria is a town of 116,000 people. It has some problems with crime and also some problems with the police, which you can get a sense of if you follow my work or the work of Matt Buedel, the Journal Star crime reporter who broke a several stories last year detailing misconduct within the police department, including an attempt to catch a city councilman in a prostitution sting. The Illinois Attorney General's Office ruled that an internal report regarding some of those acts of alleged misconduct should be released, but the city and the police department refused. (That report was apparently "lost" by Settingsgaard, and somehow ended up in the hands of a panhandler whom, coincidentally, I used to work at a gas station with and know to be a pretty serious drug addict.)
So the police raid on Daniel's house wasn't an isolated incident; it was just another case of the cops acting shady—and naturally, many in this town are raising serious questions and concerns over the use of taxpayer resources and manpower to find out who ran @peoriamayor.
Daniel didn't confess to the crime when questioned by police. When he told me about the event, his description, like almost everything that comes out of his mouth, was hilarious and delivered in an only-in-Peoria ghetto twang.
"They acted like they were gonna be on some First 48 shit," he said of the night of the raid while he put back some Busch cans with friends and roommates. "I said, 'Well, at least let me puff a yig [cigarette] if y'all are gonna sit here and try to break me down.'"
They didn't. After reading Daniel his rights he chose to lawyer up, and the cops let him go. They took his phone, though, which contains all the evidence they'll need to tie him to the account, and another he started in a fit of bravado the night after @peoriamayor was shut down. Daniel is also behind @peoriapolice, but that account has been largely inactive. It's not clear if the real Peoria police know that account exists, but Buedel let its existence be known to his followers last night.
Meanwhile, a host of copycat parody accounts have cropped up, possibly as an act of protest, possibly just to fuck with the Peoria power structure further. I'm not sure who's behind them or if they're coordinated, but it's clear that if Ardis sent the cops to Daniel's home to clamp down on people making fun of him online, that effort failed spectacularly.
Full disclosure: Part of the blame for this situation rests on my shoulders. I loudly promoted @peoriamayor when I first noticed it, having no idea someone I knew was responsible for tweets that mostly had the fake mayor using drugs and partying. It was pretty damn funny. One of Daniel's roommates told me that the first question police asked him was, "How do you know Justin Glawe?"
As it happens, less than an hour before that query was posed I was at police headquarters, reading reports like I do several times a week. Daniel found that fact funny Tuesday night, but he isn't laughing anymore. Neither are his roommates, one of whom hasn't been able to be reached because he's out of town without a single electronic device. Another is so shaken by the experience of having his room trashed by the cops he wanted nothing to do with this story.
Daniel said fuck it.
"Tell them my name. Tell them I did it," he said, acknowledging the cops have him cornered. "But when they lock me up, tell them to tweet using the hashtag #freesleezyd."
Justin Glawe is from Peoria. It's a weird place. He chronicles crime and violence there.