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Man jailed for mocking the police; 6th circuit says no harm no foul

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It’s probably not a good sign that this case is getting essentially zero national media attention.

Here’s the ACLU’s summary of the facts:

On March 2, 2016, Anthony Novak published a parody of the Parma Police Department’s Facebook page. His posts contained a range of absurd content, including:

Announcing that “[w]e will be giving out free abortions to teens using an experimental teqhnique [sic] discovered by the Parma Police Department,” to be performed in a van in a Giant Eagle parking lot;


Holding a “Pedophile Reform event” where anyone who passes “puzzles and quizzes” will be “removed frome [sic] the sex offender registry and accepted as an honorarium [sic] police officer of the Parma Police Department”;


Enacting a “new temporary law” that will forbid residents from giving money to any homeless person “in an attempt to have the homeless population eventually leave our city due to starvation.”

The page was online for less than 12 hours. Nine people called the Parma non-emergency police phone number to tell the city about the page. The calls totaled less than ten minutes, and at most, one of the callers believed the page belonged to Parma. The calls did not cause dispatch to miss a single emergency call. 

You’ll never guess what the fine folks in the Parma police department (and in the District Attorney’s office, which should be just as much a focus of outrage here) did.

(Ab)using a law that makes it a crime to “knowingly use … a computer so as to disrupt, interrupt, or impair the functions of … police operations,” they arrested him, searched his apartment, and seized his computer. Novak spent four days in jail before he could bond out.

The friendly little fascists in the Parma DA’s office decided to convey and grand jury to deal with this crime of the century — this was a Facebook page that was up for 12 hours, was an extremely obvious POLITICAL PARODY, i.e., core protected first amendment speech, and caused zero actual impairment of police operations — and managed to get Novak indicted.

In what I guess counts as heartening news given the venue, a jury of Novak’s peers in the worst state ever acquitted him.

Novak subsequently sued the city for this grotesque abuse of the police power, which involves as egregious a violation of the first amendment as you’ll ever see, short of the mass arrests of journalists for publishing critical stories of the second Trump administration, coming soon to a shining city on a hill near you.

Now the Sixth Circuit has decided it was OK to dismiss Novak’s suit without even a trial. The police, you see, are protected by Ohio’s qualified immunity doctrine, which according to the judges means that if they reasonably believed that Novak was violating the law — and how could this belief not be reasonable given that the DA’s office prosecuted the case? — then they’re immune from being sued for tearing up the Constitution and lighting it on fire.

My favorite detail of this travesty is the great legal mind that the Sixth Circuit judges quote at the end of their opinion:

Little did Anthony Novak know when he launched “The City of Parma Police Department” page that he’d wind up a defendant in court. So too for the officers who arrested him. At the end of the day, neither got all they wanted—Novak won’t be punished for his alleged crime, and the defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Novak’s civil claims.

But granting the officers qualified immunity does not mean their actions were justified or should be condoned. Indeed, it is cases like these when government officials have a particular obligation to act reasonably. Was Novak’s Facebook page worth a criminal prosecution, two appeals, and countless hours of Novak’s and the government’s time? We have our doubts. And from the beginning, any one of the officials involved could have allowed “the entire story to turn out differently,” simply by saying “No.” Bari Weiss, Some Thoughts About Courage, Common Sense (Oct. 19, 2021). Unfortunately, no one did.

Because I’m into leather, I decided to read Some Thoughts About Courage so you don’t have to.

This turns out to be a link to a characteristic Weiss Whine published in Commentary, full of the usual horror stories about the excesses of Woke Culture. You will be shocked to learn that none of these excesses resulted in anybody actually being arrested, let alone spending some time in jail for the crime of exercising a little free speech. Most of Weiss’s Book of Woke Martyrs consists of nonsense like Peter Boghossian flouncing away from his tenured professorship, just like Bari flounced from her quasi-tenured NYT op-ed sinecure, while claiming that quitting said sinecure in a snit counts as being a victim of the “woke mob.”

If you want a good laugh, here’s the most egregious case of woke mob censorship that Weiss is able to dig up, in a country of 333 million souls, a lot of them dead at this point.

Short version: UCLA business school prof sends snippy email to student who made a request that Black students be given a break on grading in the midst of the George Floyd protests. Students get upset, make sophomoric demands of the administration — this is obviously unprecedented — moron administrator suspends professor, professor is reinstated after less than three weeks.

But wait, there’s a Real Victim here. Gordon Klein, the professor in question:

Less than three weeks after this whole thing blew up, I was reinstated. But this story is not over.

You see, most of my income comes not from teaching at UCLA but from consulting to law firms and other corporations. Several of those firms dropped me after they got wind that I’d been suspended — the better to put distance between themselves and a “racist.” That cost me the lion’s share of my annual income. The students involved in this escapade may have moved on to other causes. I have not. I’m not sure I ever will.

As a result, I have just filed a lawsuit against the University of California system. No employee should ever cower in fear of his employer’s power to silence legitimate points of view, and no society should tolerate government-sponsored autocrats violating constitutional mandates.

Wow, I almost burst into tears right there.

Out of perverse curiosity, I wondered what “most” of Prof. Klein’s income might mean, and discovered that this particular martyr got paid $209,000 in 2020 to be a business school professor at UCLA, which certainly explains why he needs to spend a whole lot of time that otherwise might be dedicated to doing his actual job to making (a lot?) more than an additional $209K “consulting” and such.

Blech.

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