Covered by the Peoria Journal Star in Illinois this week, seven members of the Peoria Police Department executed a search warrant yesterday in order to discover the identity of someone operating a fake Twitter account that parodied Peoria mayor Jim Ardis (pictured above). The police seized multiple mobile phones in addition to computers stored at the residence. Three people at the home were brought into the police department for questioning and two members of the household that were working at the time were picked up by police from their place of employment and taken to the station.
According to a resident of the home that was familiar with the @peoriamayor Twitter account (now suspended), the account had tweeted about 50 times and clearly stated that it was a joking parody account as opposed to a direct impersonation. However, it wasn’t labeled as a parody until approximately two to three weeks after it was created. The account had about 50 followers, possibly some locals in the area, and likely used a profile shot of the mayor. However, the content of the tweets made references to sex and drugs while comparing Ardis with the now-infamous Rob Ford, the outlandish mayor of Toronto.
Speaking about the raid, resident Michelle Pratt said “They just asked me about the Twitter account, if I knew anything about it. They brought me in like I was a criminal…They said they had a search warrant and took all the electronic devices that had Internet access. They said there had been an Internet crime that occurred at this residence.” Pratt also mentioned that she had to spend three hours in an interrogation room before the police were able to question her.
According to Peoria Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard, officers have been seeking the creator and operator of the parody Twitter account in order to charge that person with “false personation of a public official.” If convicted of that charge, that would go on that person’s record as a Class A misdemeanor and could include up to a year of jail time as well as a $2,500 fine. Justifying the search warrant, Settingsgaard said “I don’t agree it was obvious, and in fact it appears that someone went to great lengths to make it appear it was actually from the mayor.”
Up to this point, the investigation has only yielded a single arrest and that was for a drug possession charge. Pratt’s boyfriend, 36-year-old Jacob L. Elliott, was taken into custody for “possessing 30 to 500 grams of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.” Released in a statement to the L.A. Times regarding the primary investigation, Peoria Police Lt. Willie King Jr.said “We’re just still in investigation mode and don’t have a suspect in custody. We have a couple of forensic guys that do this type of crime investigation. If they come up with things, we look into them.”
Of course, Twitter suspended the @peoriamayor account in the recent weeks. According to Twitter’s rules on account suspensions, anyone can request a suspension if the account if using personal information in the form of an email address, phone number, mailing address, social profile links or personal picture. Parody accounts are allowed on Twitter, but the user must not include personal contact information and must clearly specify that the account is a parody.
[Top Photo credit: Ron Johnson / Journal Star]