A 28-year-old Ohio man is suing police for arresting him and putting him on trial for felony charges in connection to a fake Facebook page he created. The Facebook page mocked the local police department.
Anthony Novak alleges federal civil rights violations in the aftermath of his 2016 arrest by the Parma Police Department, just south of Cleveland. The agency issued an advisory last year to citizens saying the page wasn’t real and that “The public should disregard any and all information posted on the fake Facebook account.”
Novak was acquitted by a jury of the felony charge of disrupting a public service. The fake Facebook page, which has been removed, replaced the agency’s slogan of “We know crime” to “We no crime.” A job advertisement seeking recruits on the fake page said: “The test will consist of a 15- question, multiple-choice definition test followed by a hearing test. Should you pass you will be accepted as an officer of the Parma Police Department.”
The lawsuit maintains that there was no reason for Novak’s arrest and trial.
“No reasonable officer could have believed that the Parody Account’s author intended to disrupt any police services or that any police services were in fact disrupted,” according to the federal lawsuit, (PDF) which seeks unspecified damages for alleged First Amendment violations. “Rather, Defendants targeted Mr. Novak’s lawful speech because they found it insulting. They decided to expose Mr. Novak’s identity, stop his speech, and punish him.”
At the time of Novak’s arrest in March of 2016, Lt. Kevin Riley of the Parma police said that “we believe the material that Novak posted on the fake account crossed the line from satire to an actual risk to public safety. We presented the facts of this case and the investigation to our law department and they agreed that Novak’s actions were criminal in nature.”
During the trial, the agency told jurors that it had received 10 calls in 12 hours after the fake page went online. It was up for about a day, and had the same logo but with a changed slogan. It gained about 100 followers.
According to Cleveland.com, the fake page said that the agency would begin offering abortion services.
The suit also seeks the return of a computer and mobile phone the authorities seized as part of their investigation.
Novak isn’t alone in being arrested for parodying public agencies and officials online. Just last week, we brought word of a Florida man arrested in connection to a fake Twitter account that assumed the identity of a police department spokesman. And two years ago, an Illinois man was arrested, but settled out of court for $125,000, for creating a fake Twitter account of a local mayor.