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Peoria reacted swiftly to fake Twitter account

Published: Sunday, May 11, 2014 11:52 p.m. CDT

PEORIA – Peoria city officials and police reacted swiftly to try and dismantle a fake Twitter account mocking Mayor Jim Ardis, according to a published report citing documents that also showed contradictory statements from public officials.

The mock account led to a police raid at an area home last month that generated headlines and prompted criticism of officials. No charges related to the Twitter account were filed.

Once city officials discovered the account in March, they tried to shut it down by contacting Twitter and assigning the city's cybercrimes investigator to take a closer look, according to a Peoria Journal Star story published Saturday. The newspaper cited hundreds of pages of documents, including emails, obtained through an information request.

Among them was a March 13 correspondence from Ardis saying that he would "absolutely" prosecute, even as the city's police chief initially said the fake account didn't appear to be a criminal violation.

"I'm not sure if it would support a civil suit for defamation of character," Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard wrote after city officials discovered the account March 10. "I'm not an expert in the civil arena but my recollection is that public officials have very limited protection from defamation."

The Twitter account, which included lewd posts on sex and drugs, featured a photo of Ardis, his city email address and a bio. Only later did it explicitly state it was a parody account, something Twitter requires under its terms of service.

After inquiries from police, Twitter suspended the account, but the police raid happened several weeks later regardless. Authorities seized computers and drug paraphernalia; one resident was charged with possession of marijuana.

The incident sparked criticism that Ardis had abused his powers and violated free speech rights. Ardis has defended his actions, saying he felt his identity was stolen and the tweets were "absolute filth."

Peoria authorities obtained three search warrants in connection with the investigation. While Settingsgaard told the newspaper he wasn't aware Ardis knew about the warrants, documents show the mayor was sent emails about them.

The newspaper also reported a city attorney drafted a letter to Twitter's general counsel threatening to file a complaint for injunction in federal court to force the company to shut down the account.

Peoria County State's Attorney Jerry Brady has said he won't bring charges because Illinois law criminalizing the offense indicates it must be carried out in person and makes no mention of using the Internet.

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