ACLU, fake Twitter creator & Mayor Ardis weigh in on lawsuit

By WEEK Reporter

June 12, 2014 Updated Jun 13, 2014 at 1:32 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis and other city officials are being sued by the nation's largest civil rights group.

The American Civil Liberties Union says the lawsuit sets an important precedent to protect future violations of the 1st and 4th Amendment.

Thursday at a news conference in Peoria the original fake Twitter account creator speaks out.

"Today is the day to hold accountable the City of Peoria and police officials who led a manhunt not on a person seeking to do harm but for a man with a smartphone, a Twitter account and a sense of humor," said Jon Daniel.

The spoken words of the man behind the keyboard of the fake account. Little did he know his words would lead to a lawsuit against a handful of city officials including Mayor Jim Ardis, city manager Patrick Urich, assistant city manager Chris Setti and several members of the Peoria Police including former Chief Steven Settingsgaard.

"It was a parody account. It was intended to be a joke," said Daniel.

"What these city officials did not only violated the Constitution but violated common sense," said ACLU lawyer Harvey Grossman. "They should have known what Daniel did was not impersonation of the mayor. They treated him as if he had no rights."

ACLU says city officials are expected to promote freedom of speech--not suppress it. Grossman a potential solution to offensive speech is more speech not less.

"[Ardis] had a teaching moment, he clearly could have used the bodied politic as an example of speech he though was inappropriate, instead of ordering a police raid," said Grossman.

The 13-page lawsuit is requesting three general actions to be taken--a federal judge to declare Daniel's rights were in fact violated, an injunction against the city's ability to suppress future speech and monetary compensation for emotional damage.

"It was a very scary while," said Daniel. "I had a hard time sleeping; I couldn't see my son... it was a tough time."

The ACLU is leaving it to the jury to decide how much money Daniel would receive.

Hours later, Mayor Ardis held a news conference at City Hall. Ardis says the so called "harmless" comments have put him and his family under emotional stress and danger. He says the lawsuit fails to address that the account was not originally labeled a parody.

"If this filthy attack was labeled at the beginning as parody, I would have not been any less repulsed but at least it would be known to those reading the information that the content being assigned to me was in fact someone posing as me," said Ardis.

He also went on to read several of the crude tweets from the @PeoriaMayor account.

City officials say this will be their final comment until the case is over. News 25's attempts to reach the police were unsuccessful.