When most people think about felony driving under the influence cases, they imagine drunk drivers doing extensive damage to property and to other people, even causing a death. Others might be prompted to consider drivers who are cited for DWI after numerous prior convictions for…
You might conclude that the police department in Parma, Ohio hasn’t much of a sense of humor. They appear to have been so incensed at a parody of their Facebook page that they’ve arrested the man responsible and charged him with a felony, “disrupting public services.”
Anthony Novak created a Facebook page entitled “The City of Parma Police Department.” In it, Novak inserted numerous articles about the goings on in the city, and it’s the content of the articles that apparently has the PD up in arms. They don’t like being made fun of, and they seem to be willing to use any laws to stop the farce, even a law that on its face has nothing to do with the activity alleged. The result, we believe, will lead to a head-on collision between the criminal charge against Novak, and Novak’s first amendment rights.
First Amendment Clash
Here are some examples of the articles that the law enforcement folks say caused the alleged “disruption”:
- New temporary law forbidding residents from assisting homeless persons.
- Pedophile reform event at which pedophiles who pass quizzes will be removed from the sex offender registry.
- Announcement that the PD will be providing free abortions to teens.
- A written police officer exam to be held, “strongly encouraging minorities not to apply.”
We can see how many folks would view the articles as being in bad taste, but a criminal charge? The Ohio law in question, ORC 2909.04, makes it a felony to intentionally interrupt various services, including television, radio telephone, mass communications, police, fire, etc. The law, according to most observers, was designed to criminalize the sabotaging of transmission facilities, jamming frequencies, and similar acts – not to punish what the Parma PD views as “derogatory” and “inflammatory” speech.
Interestingly, since Novak’s arrest, a number of copycat parodies of the Parma PD have appeared in Facebook. We expect that if the prosecution of Novak moves forward, he will raise the first amendment issue, as well as the non-applicability of the statute under which he has been charged. We also believe that Novak’s right to freedom of expression extends to the creation of a satire Facebook page.
George Vomvolakis Law Offices
275 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016