The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois says a lawsuit over a parody Twitter account is a "teaching moment" for the City of Peoria.
The suit, which names several city officials including Mayor Jim Ardis and former Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard, was filed Wednesday. It alleges the First and Fourth Amendment rights of Jon Daniel, the creator of @peoriamayor (a Twitter handle depicting Ardis as a drug addict and a pervert), were violated when the real Ardis ordered police to aggressively track down the person responsible for the account. The criminal investigation, carried out under the assumption that the operator of @peoriamayor was falsely impersonating a public official, ultimately led to a search of Daniel's home on April 15.
At a news conference Thursday, ACLU legal director Harvey Grossman said the city needs to learn that the investigation, and subsequent raid, were unacceptable.
"Your city fathers need a lesson," said Grossman.
Daniel, appearing alongside Grossman and another ACLU lawyer, said he was surprised by the city's reaction to what he thought was a harmless joke.
"I never thought I did a crime, I didn't even think that was in the realm of possibility," said Daniel. "I was very scared."
He and the ACLU are seeking unspecified money damages, plus they're asking a judge to issue an injunction to prevent other parodies from being prosecuted.
"What happened to me was wrong, and it shouldn't happen to anyone in the future just because they poke fun at the mayor," said Daniel.
Daniel, who never expected to be thrust into the public limelight as he's been since the controversial story broke, maintains that Ardis could have avoided the whole ordeal.
"If the mayor was concerned, all he had to do was tell the public that this was not his account, and not his words. Instead, he chose to involve the police," said Daniel.
Grossman says a jury will ultimately decide whether Daniel deserves to receive any monetary compensation for the ordeal. He says, while a settlement may be reached, sending a message to government leaders is more important than a payout. Daniel was never charged with any crime for @peoriamayor. His roommate, Jacob Elliott, was arrested for pot possession in the raid. Elliott still faces drug charges.