The votes are in! At 1176 votes — an overwhelming 49.49% of all votes cast — Popehat's 2016 Censorious Asshat of the Year is the City of Parma Police Department, which I profiled in April 2016. Congratulations! Sort of.
How did the police of a modest Ohio town beat out luminaries like Donald Trump and the assorted colleges and college students of America? They earned it, friends and neighbors. They didn't just bluster, or threaten suit, or denigrate free speech values. They arrested someone for making fun of them and forced his felony prosecution.
Anthony Novak created a satirical Facebook page full of fake news, derogatory jokes, and clear tells of parody. It had "news items" like these:
The City of Parma Police Department will enact a Pedophile Reform event outside of St. Anthony of Padua Church on 5-1-16 in an attempt to reform pedophiles to normality. We will have multiple learning stations including a “No means no” station filled with puzzles and quizzes. Anyone who passes all of the stations will be removed from the sex offender registry and accepted as an honorary police officer of the Parma Police Department. Have fun out there!
We have forgotten to post that on September 30, 2015 at approximately 10:00 am the Parma Subway Sandwich Shop located at 5890 Broadview Rd. was robbed at knife point. The white male offender got away with a small amount of money and did not harm the clerk. Moments after an unrelated African American woman was seen loitering for over 20 minutes in front of the store despite their no loitering policy. If you have any information regarding this African American womans whereabouts please contact the City of Parma Police Department so that she may be brought to justice. This is the best still photo we have of the offender. Mentor Police and Middleburg Hts. Police have reported similar loitering offenses which may be the same female. The Parma Police Department is seeking assistance identifying the individual in the picture. Please contact Det. Joe Tremble.
Did the Parma Police Department laugh off the joke? Of course not. This is America. In America, we're civilized. We know that the purpose of power is to punish people who mock us, especially if we are law enforcement officials.
No, the Parma PD arrested Novak, had him charged with the felony of "disrupting public services", and forced him to go to trial, where he was promptly acquitted by a jury that did not understand that in America we value deference to armed people with badges more than we value due process or freedom of expression.
Novak has, quite justifiably, sued. You can read his federal civil complaint here. He's sued the City of Parma, Parma's chief prosecutor and "Law Director" Timothy Dobeck, City of Parma PD Lt. Kevin Riley, and City of Parma PD Detective Thomas Connor for various violations of his civil rights.
Novak may prevail against the police officers and the City; it's too soon to tell. However, "Law Director" Timothy Dobeck will likely escape legal consequences for the grueling, retaliatory, terrifying felony prosecution itself.
See, in America, under the doctrine of prosecutorial immunity, prosecutors can generally get away with violating your rights, even by prosecuting you for your exercise of your First Amendment right to criticize the government. Novak might get some limited relief against Dobek for his participation in securing search warrants — some courts have upheld claims against prosecutors who get search warrants to retaliate against obviously protected speech, on the theory that drafting and security search warrants is outside the core prosecutorial function — but that's only a small part of Novak's harm.
Parma PD, Connor, Riley, and Dobeck are bad public officials and bad Americans. They deserve our contempt. Please join me in showing it to them.
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