Illinois city, creator of Twitter parody account settle suit

FILE - In this Aug. 7, 2014 file photo, Jon Daniel speaks at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois office in Chicago. Daniel, who created a spoof Twitter account in the name of Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis,who took his case to federal court after police raided his home. The city of Peoria said Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015 that it will pay $125,000 to Daniel to settle the lawsuit. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, file)

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — The central Illinois city of Peoria tentatively agreed Wednesday to pay $125,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a man whose home was raided by police over a Twitter account he created depicting the mayor as a lewd fan of drugs and alcohol.

The deal includes no admission that Peoria did anything wrong, but it calls for the city to send its police department a directive emphasizing that parody does not fall under an Illinois statute regulating false personation of a public official, which was used to obtain warrants to arrest Daniel.

An attorney for the city said the deal made financial sense. The City Council still must approve the settlement.

Attorneys for 30-year-old Jon Daniel of Peoria called the deal “a civics lessons” for governments around Illinois that parody isn’t cause for a police investigation.

Daniel, through his American Civil Liberties Union attorneys, declined a request for an interview. But in an emailed statement he said he was satisfied with the deal.

“I always thought that the Twitter account was a joke for me and for my friends,” Daniel said. “I never dreamed that it would result in my home being raided and me being placed under arrest.”

Daniel created the Twitter account in March 2014 for what he has said was purely amusement, writing as Mayor Jim Ardis and focusing on alcohol, drugs and sex.

“Im (sic) thinking it’s tequila and stripper night,” one message said.

Daniel later added an indicator on the account that it was intended as parody, but Twitter shortly thereafter suspended the account.

In April, though, police acting on a complaint from Ardis raided the home Daniel shared with several roommates, taking computers and smartphones.

The local prosecutor declined to file charges, but the raid was widely criticized by free-speech advocates and others long accustomed to fake social media accounts pretending to channel the thoughts of elected officials and celebrities.

At least three Jim Ardis parody accounts were found Wednesday on Twitter.

Some officials have even laughed along with the parodies. Rahm Emanuel acknowledged the foul-mouthed Twitter parody of him a journalism professor created when he was running for mayor of Chicago was often entirely on the mark.

Attorney Jim Sotos, who represented the city, said Peoria would have spent far more if Daniel’s lawsuit went to trial.

“When the opportunity to settle for that low a number presented itself, settling was the only fiscally responsible thing” to do, Sotos said.

Sotos added that Illinois’ False Personation of a Public Official Statute could probably stand to be updated to indicate that it doesn’t apply to satire aimed at public officials.

One of Daniel’s attorneys said other governments in Illinois should be paying attention.

“We hope that every municipality across the state is watching,” said Marc Beem, a Chicago attorney who worked with the ACLU.

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