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30 Jul, 2019 02:14

Man charged with felony over cop-mocking Facebook page allowed to sue cops

Man charged with felony over cop-mocking Facebook page allowed to sue cops

An Ohio man charged with – and acquitted of – a felony over a satirical Facebook page mocking his local police department can sue both the city and the police who tried to send him to prison, a federal judge has ruled.

Anthony Novak, arrested in 2016 on felony charges for his Facebook parody of the Parma, Ohio Police Department, can sue the city of Parma and the officers who arrested him, Sixth Circuit Judge Amul Thapar has ruled, because the officers clearly violated Novak’s constitutionally-protected right to free speech. 

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This case goes to the heart of what it means to be an American,” Novak’s lawyer, Subodh Chandra, declared in an interview following the decision.

We have not only the right to criticize government, but to mock it mercilessly.”

And mock it mercilessly Novak’s page did – it appeared at first glance to be a carbon copy of the Parma Police Department’s webpage, and only a closer examination turned up oddities like an event in which pedophiles received honorary police commissions, or the “no minorities need apply” notice by the “jobs” section.

The ruling prevents officers Kevin Riley and Thomas Connor, who led the hunt for and persecution of Novak after discovering the satirical page, from having the case dismissed, rejecting their claims of “qualified immunity” and kicking the case back down to the Cleveland court. It echoes a lower court’s ruling last year that found Novak’s speech was constitutionally protected, taking great pains to explain that “parody” was not defined by a “most gullible person on Facebook” standard. But Novak still has to win the actual lawsuit before he can have his sweet revenge.

Novak sued the city of Parma and its police in September 2016, a month after he was acquitted of felony charges of “disrupting, interrupting, or impairing police services” which could have put him in prison for up to 18 months over a Facebook page that was live for 12 hours. The department violated both his free speech rights and his rights against unlawful search and seizure, his lawsuit charges, and so far, the courts have declined to boot the case on any of the motions filed by his opponents.

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Police used “misrepresentation” in an affidavit used to secure the search warrant that allowed them to storm Novak’s apartment with a SWAT team and confiscate every electronic device he owned, a federal judge ruled in 2018 during a previous attempt by the Parma police’s lawyers to have the suit thrown out. Novak spent four days in jail awaiting bail and remained in legal limbo for five months as police insisted “the material that Novak posted on the fake account crossed the line from satire to an actual risk to public safety.” Even after a jury found him not guilty of the trumped-up charges, police still insisted they were “just doing our job” when they hunted down the parodist. 

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