Police In Parma, OH Can’t Take A Joke
Mar. 31, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Want to get arrested in Parma, Ohio for the sort of thing that would cause the average person to respond, “suck it up, buttercup?” Just make fun of the Parma Police on Facebook and they’ll be happy to do the job.
Parma Police arrested Anthony Novak, 27, after he allegedly made a parody account of their department’s Facebook page and posted “derogatory” and “inflammatory” information, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.
The offense allegedly committed by Novak is a novel one to criminalize, the emotional harm done to cops’ feelz. The Parma Police claim he “disrupted public services” with his Facebook page, a fourth degree felony in Ohio. The logical gymnastics required to grant an arrest warrant on those grounds are complex, but let’s take a look inside the Parma PD’s collective heads and see if we can’t justify this based on the statute in question, Ohio R.C. 2909.04. A scan reveals the following subsection that “may” be how Novak found himself in trouble.
(B) No person shall knowingly use any computer, computer system, computer network, telecommunications device, or other electronic device or system or the internet so as to disrupt, interrupt, or impair the functions of any police, fire, educational, commercial, or governmental operations.
That subsection is the only justification to be found giving this charge anything remotely resembling legs against Novak. He didn’t tamper with or damage Parma Police property. He didn’t interrupt television, radio, or broadcast services with his Facebook page, and he certainly didn’t “substantially impair” the Parma Police’s ability to respond to an emergency. This lone provision is the one thread with which Parma police justify arresting Novak.
This raises the question of whether any of his “derogatory” or “inflammatory” posts actually disrupted, interrupted or impaired any of the Parma Police Department’s functions. Although Facebook has since deleted Novak’s page at the behest of the Parma Police Department, we still have a few screen shots of the posts Novak generated to decide whether he actually stopped the Parma Police from doing their job. Let’s start with the one where Novak advertised free teen abortions, courtesy of the Parma Police.
The Parma Police Department & Parma Auxiliary Police Food Drive to benefit teen abortions will take place on Saturday. We will be giving free abortions to teens using an experimental technique discovered by the Parma Police Department. All teens must bring a note from their parents to be part of the experiment. The abortions will be held Saturday, 4/19/2016 from noon to 4 PM in a police van in the parking lot at Giant Eagle (7400 Broadview Rd).
There’s not a reasonable person in existence who would believe that a police department would be conducting abortions in a police van in the parking lot of a grocery store using an “experimental technique” discovered by police officers on reading this particular Facebook post. No reasonable person would construe Novak’s post to be anything that disrupted the Parma Police Department’s ability to do their jobs.
That doesn’t mean at least one person scanning Facebook might actually take this sort of thing seriously and show up at the Giant Eagle for an abortion. Those people are probably the ones who click on the ads for Oakley sunglasses that cost only twenty dollars. And don’t read Fault Lines. I’m feeling generous, so let’s try again.
Here, Anthony Novak “advertises” a written exam for the Parma Police Department. Does this actually impair or disrupt the Parma Police Department’s ability to perform their jobs? Let’s take a look at the actual post.
POLICE OFFICER City of Parma
The Parma Civil Service Commission will conduct a written exam for basic Police Officer for the City of Parma to establish an eligibility list. The exam will be held on March 12, 2016. Applications are available February 14, 2016 through March 2, 2016. Parma is an equal opportunity employer but is strongly encouraging minorities to not apply.
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.
By order of Parma Civil Service Commission John L. Kirk Jr., Chairman.
Timmy Baycock Dan Coffee An Equal Opportunity Employer
This one “might” be construed as “disrupting public services,” until you realize Novak’s page wasn’t created until March 2, 2016. Any “deadline” for getting an application, should you believe such a post, would have already passed at that point. No reasonable person would read a post like this and believe it to be an actual solicitation for the public to come to the Parma Police Department for a written exam and a hearing test. Unfortunately, the Parma Police Department isn’t exactly comprised of people who are “reasonable,” given the following post to their official Facebook account on March 2, 2016.
The Parma Police Department would like to warn the public that a fake Parma Police Facebook page has been created. This matter is currently being investigated by the Parma Police Department and Facebook. This is the Parma Police Department’s official Facebook page. The public should disregard any and all information posted on the fake Facebook account. The individual(s) who created this fake account are not employed by the police department in any capacity and were never authorized to post information on behalf of the department.
Novak’s attorney, David Brown, says the case has the “potential” to raise First Amendment problems, but “it’s still too early in the case to tell.” It’s not, though. Novak’s deleted page is arguably “parody” or “satire”, and as uncomfortable as it may be for the Parma Police Department, it’s protected under the First Amendment.
There’s no confusion with any sale of “goods and services,” so Novak would appear to be in the clear on that matter. The target of Novak’s ridicule is apparent, and the reasonable reader in question wouldn’t take a single post mentioned and actually consider it a “false fact” when taken in context as a whole. Even if the intended target doesn’t “get” that the page is satire, that doesn’t exempt it from First Amendment protection. And the Parma Police Department’s message is completely different from Novak’s ridicule, so that would appear to further shield Novak’s page on First Amendment grounds.
Our First Amendment is robust in scope to allow for the ability to criticize government officials. Police Departments, no matter how much they feel they deserve an exemption, are not immune to ridicule. That Parma, Ohio’s Police Department found it necessary to peruse the law to find a means to arrest Anthony Novak for his criticisms on Facebook of their work is a stinging indictment on their force as a whole, and needs to be ridiculed as such.
Sadly, cop feelings mean more than actual facts or public opinion, and Anthony Novak, as well as other Parma Police critics, may suffer as a result. Even if he prevails on a First Amendment defense, he’ll beat the rap, but he’s already suffered the ride.