Anthony has lived in Parma for most of his life. In his free time, he enjoys writing comedy sketches with his friends. And in March 2016, he decided to create a Facebook page parodying the Parma Police Department’s page. Anthony’s parody page was modeled after the real department page. It had the same name and profile picture, but displayed the satirical slogan, “We no crime.” The posts on Anthony’s page were obvious parody and included things like the announcement of an “official stay inside and catch up with family day” to “reduce future crimes” during which anyone caught outside would be arrested.
The Parma Police Department did not appreciate Anthony’s criticism. Citing 11 calls that Parma residents made to a nonemergency line to either ask about or tattle on Anthony’s parody page, police obtained a warrant for his arrest, searched his apartment, seized his electronics, and charged him with a felony under an Ohio law that criminalizes using a computer to “disrupt” “police operations.” Anthony had to spend four days in jail before making bail. He was prosecuted, but after a full criminal trial, a jury found him not guilty.
But when Anthony tried to vindicate his rights by filing a civil-rights lawsuit, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to hold the police officers accountable for their actions. Despite the clear violation of Anthony’s First and Fourth Amendment rights, the Sixth Circuit granted the officers qualified immunity—a doctrine that the Supreme Court invented in the 1980s to protect government officials from being sued for unconstitutional conduct. As a result, Anthony’s case was thrown out.
If the police can use their authority to arrest their critics without consequence, everyone’s rights are at risk. Now, with the help of the Institute for Justice (IJ), Anthony is asking the Supreme Court to take up his case. The First Amendment has a long history of protecting parodies like Anthony’s, and qualified immunity cannot shield officials who arrest people for their speech.
First Amendment | Immunity and Accountability
Anthony Novak was arrested by his local police after he parodied the department on Facebook. His lawsuit against the city was dismissed after the officers were given qualified immunity.