Facebook Satirist Says Page Was Free Speech

     (CN) — An Ohio man who was arrested and charged with a felony after creating a parody Facebook page for his local police department is now suing his accusers for civil-rights violations.
     On Monday, 27-year-old Anthony Novak filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Parma, Ohio, Law Director Timothy Dobeck and two police officers — Lt. Kevin Riley and Detective Thomas Connor — for free-speech retaliation, unreasonable searches, false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and civil conspiracy.
     Novak had used his cellphone to create a satirical Facebook page for the Parma Police Department while he was waiting at a bus stop on March 1, 2016.
     He used images and text from the city of Parma’s actual Facebook page when creating his parody page, but also included distinct differences between the two pages and made six postings that “could only be deemed by a reasonable person to constitute protected satire and/or parody,” according to the complaint filed in Northern Ohio Federal Court.
     In a fictitious posting about a job opening, Novak wrote, “Parma is an equal opportunity employer but is strongly encouraging minorities to not apply.”
     One post offered free abortions for teenagers, claiming the procedures would be performed in a police van using “an experimental technique discovered by the Parma Police Department.”
     Yet another post threatened a minimum of 60 days in jail for any Parma resident caught giving food, shelter or water to a homeless person.
     The Parma Police Department quickly learned of the fake Facebook page and began investigating its origin.
     Novak deleted the page less than 48 hours after creating it when he saw stories about it on the local news.
     Parma Police arrested Novak less than a month later for disrupting public service, a fourth-degree felony under Ohio Revised Code 2909.04(B).
     The statute states: “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.”
     Police jailed Novak for four days, three of which were spent with violent criminals in the general population at the Cuyahoga County jail, according to his lawsuit.
     Novak maintained his innocence throughout his criminal trial in Cuyahoga County Court, the lawsuit states, refusing to plea-bargain with prosecutors who wanted him to plead guilty to an unspecified misdemeanor.
     When Novak’s attempts to have the case dismissed were rejected and it went to a trial, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty after a brief hour-and-a-half deliberation.
     In that case, Novak’s attorney, Gary Vick Jr., successfully argued that Novak’s actions did not actually create any disruption to Parma’s ability to provide public service.
     In a phone interview with Courthouse News, Vick said the city of Parma had only received 10 or 12 phone calls about the website, and those were merely reporting its existence.
     “When you look at the search warrant affidavits that Connor put in, he focused on the comments people were making like ‘f*ck the Parma police’ and ‘the Parma police are assholes,'” Vick said. “They arrested [Novak] because of the content of the Facebook page, not the perceived harm it may have caused. They didn’t like what he posted. And that’s absolutely protected by the First Amendment.”
     Vick and Thomas Connick, both of Connick Law in Beachwood, Ohio, are now representing Novak in his federal civil-rights lawsuit.
     Novak seeks a declaration that ORC 2909.04(B) is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad because it grants police “unfettered discretion” to prohibit constitutionally protected speech.
     He is also seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
     “The police, with no justification, with no probable cause and no good basis, arrested, charged and prosecuted Anthony,” Vick said. “In doing so, they completely violated his First Amendment rights, among other constitutional rights, and they’re going to pay for it.”
     The city of Parma did not respond Thursday to a request for comment on the complaint.

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