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Peoria Twitter Faker Sues City After Charges Dropped

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

The man who created a fake Twitter account to parody the mayor of Peoria, Illinois, is now suing the city over his arrest.

Jonathan Daniel was suspected of creating and running the @peoriamayor Twitter account and was arrested after police raided his home in April. Mashable reports that the State's Attorney for Peoria County decided to drop the charges for impersonating a public official, but Daniel isn't done with the city just yet.

What legal beef does this Twitter faker have with Peoria?

Civil Rights Lawsuit

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has taken Daniel under its legal wing and filed a lawsuit on his behalf in federal court. The suit names the City of Peoria, real-life Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis, and a handful of other public officials in conspiring to violate Daniel's civil rights.

Daniel is suing under Section 1983, a federal statute that allows persons to sue government officials and cities for depriving them of their constitutional rights. It is often used in cases of false or wrongful arrest.

First Amendment Claims

The @peoriamayor account was alleged to have been used by Daniel from March 9 to March 19, using a picture of Mayor Ardis as the account's avatar. Daniel claims that three days after he began using the account, he added the words "parody account" to the account's biography line.

Daniel claims that his use of the fake Twitter account was obviously a parody -- even though it included profane language and references to the poster's drug use. This sort of tomfoolery is usually how online defamation lawsuits start, but Daniel was arrested under an Illinois criminal law for impersonating a public official.

Using the laws to silence an obvious act of parody, as opposed to a crime, was a violation of Daniel's First Amendment rights, the lawsuit claims.

4th Amendment Claims

The Twitter prankster also claims that Peoria's legal officials knew that the Illinois criminal statute didn't apply to his conduct, but continued to arrest and prosecute him.

But here's the problem: Mayor Ardis and the other named officials have qualified immunity from lawsuits unless they intentionally violated a "clearly established" right. Unless a court buys Daniel's theory that city officials conspired to make his life hell for impersonating the mayor, a simple misinterpretation of the law will not result in liability -- assuming the public officials acted in good faith.

Good luck fighting City Hall, Daniel -- and maybe lay off Twitter for a while.

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