Prosecutor Dangles “Cyberstalking” Charge for Online Cartoons That Mock Police

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

This is insane.

The Renton City Prosecutor wants to send a cartoonist to jail for mocking the police department in a series of animated Internet videos.The “South-Park”-style animations parody everything from officers having sex on duty to certain personnel getting promoted without necessary qualifications . . .

Only KIRO Team 7 Investigative Reporter Chris Halsne holds a key document that really lays bare the city’s intent. The document was quietly filed in King County Superior Court last week. It’s a search warrant accusing an anonymous cartoon creator, going by the name of Mr. Fiddlesticks, of cyberstalking (RCW 9.61.260). The Renton Police Department and the local prosecutor got a judge to sign off as a way to uncover the name of whoever is behind the parodies. Halsne talked with three nationally respected legal experts who believe the use of the cyberstalking statute is likely stomping on the constitution . . .

A criminal court document, uncovered by Team 7 Investigators, not only shows how badly the city of Renton wants to “out” the cartoonist (who goes by the name MrFiddlesticks), but states some of the fake character’s lines discuss real life incidents.For example, the search warrant says one cartoon statement “discussed a past incident that has already been investigated…..regarding a dating relationship (a female detective) had with a suspect.”

An embarrassing revelation; yes, but criminal?We asked attorney Venkat Balasubramani to review several parody videos and the court documents. He’s an expert in cyber-law and constitutional issues.

“The cyberstalking angle doesn’t pass the laugh test,” Balasubramani told KIRO-TV. “It’s a serious stretch and I’d be surprised if somebody looked at it and realistically thought these acts actually fit the statute and we could make somebody criminally liable.”

When we asked about the more likely scenario, Balasubramani said, “I think they were trying to get at the speaker and they looked around for a statute that shoehorned their conduct into and sent that to Google and said ‘turn over the information.”Historically, Google and You-Tube are far more likely to cough up an anonymous animator’s real name when there’s a criminal case, as opposed to just an internal affairs investigation into some personnel issues.

In a just world, this stunt would get the prosecutor disbarred and the police chief fired.

MORE: Ken at Popehat names the names.

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66 Responses to “Prosecutor Dangles “Cyberstalking” Charge for Online Cartoons That Mock Police”

  1. #1 |  Marty | 

    I hope this guy makes more parodies using the prosecutor and the judge, too. I’ll toss 20 bucks into his defense fund bucket…

  2. #2 |  Laura Victoria | 

    Police Chief “Responds”

    He fails to address that the statute is either (a) unconstitutional on its face or (b) unconstitutional as applied.

    He makes the ludicrous claim that because he’s been accused of being untransparent with police misconduct investigations, and because he believes a cop is the cartoonist, he is therefore investigating all alleged “crimes” by pollice brought to his attention. This Chief is a parody unto himself.

  3. #3 |  “Cartoonist Faces Prosecution for Videos Mocking Police” | 

    […] of the dangers of overbroad “cyber-stalking” statutes, here you go. [WSJ Law Blog, Balko, Volokh, Reason, […]

  4. #4 |  Bob | 

    Heh. They have the rest of the videos up now.

    So… No names are revealed, the Department name is never said. This could be anywhere.

    The funny part is the real life Chief Wiggums in Renton… He has basically said:

    Hey! This unnamed people and unnamed Police Department in these videos is exactly as fucked up as MY department! We did all this stupid shit! This must be about us!

    No doubt, all the OTHER Chiefs, who also ride herd over a sack of immoral, unprofessional children saw it and thought “LOL It’s so true! We do all that stupid shit too!” But they have the sense no not say that out loud.

  5. #5 |  Larry | 

    I am the cartoonest, MrFiddlesticks, now come get me, I’m in Flower Mound, Texas.

  6. #6 |  joel | 

    What will happen if the cartoonist is a Police Officer?

  7. #7 |  My contribution to help Streisand the shit out of the Renton Police Department | Absurd Results | 

    […] have covered the story in depth [See Overlawyered; WSJ Law Blog; Balko; Volokh; Reason; Popehat], so I see now reason to rehash it here. But I will quote the venerable […]

  8. #8 |  Bob | 

    #52 joel

    What will happen if the cartoonist is a Police Officer?

    I assume the same thing that happens to any cop that doesn’t cow tow to the “thin blue line”. Harassment, bad reviews, maximum departmental punishments for the most minor ‘policy’ violations, etc. I.E. He’ll be drummed off the force.

  9. #9 |  MattJ | 

    Mr. Fuddlesticks could be a police officer, but probably is just someone well-connected to the police.

    I’m guessing it’s Dexter Morgan.

  10. #10 |  Tom | 

    All I can say about the quest for Mr. Fiddlesticks is that I am Mr. Fiddlesticks.

  11. #11 |  Monica | 

    This is of course the actions of Police State, which is exactly what we are.

  12. #12 |  TXSwede | 

    When you come get Larry, come get me, too. I’m in Southlake, and I am Mr Fiddlesticks.

  13. #13 |  DocHoliday916 | 

    “A person is guilty of cyberstalking if he or she, with intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass any other person, makes an electronic communication to such other person or a third party:”

    Hmmm….is there attribution here? Any reference to other living individuals may be purely construed as coincidental. I don’t here a specific name of anyone in this video so where’s the crime?

    The PD’s Chief’s last name is Milosevich? Where have we heard that one before.
    Nazis…Fascists…Communists…Fascists. Renton PD has some winners for role models don’t they!?!?!

  14. #14 |  DocHoliday916 | 

    “No law is a guarantee against the evil it was passed to prevent”
    All the videos are up on You Tube…fuuunnny!
    Milosevich is interviewed…he comes across as a thug pussy!

    Hmmm…maybe Mike Nifong has a future in consulting counseling his peers who are about to go down the same path…”Don’t do it.” Now just where the hell is Mike Nifong now that the Renton PD Chief and the Renton City Prosecutor may need him?

    And what did Adrian Cronower (Robin Williams) tell the Sergeant Major in one of the last scenes of “Good Morning Viet-Nam” of what the Sergeant Major REALLY needed for himself. These two Renton thugs fit that category!

  15. #15 |  Joe | 

    Thug pussies is a good way to describe these individuals. They seem drawn to prosecutor offices and to certain positions in law enforcement.

  16. #16 |  JOR | 

    Yizmo @23, the answer is yes.