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 |  JS | 

    In a just world maybe. Not in 21st century America.

  2. #2 |  Doc Merlin | 

    I said this would end up happening with the cyberstalking laws. Anything that can be abused will be.

  3. #3 |  pegr | 

    And the judge who signed off a public flogging…

  4. #4 |  WWJGD | 

    Does Google’s legal department (or whomever receives these requests) not place any sort of scrutiny on them? Or do they just rubber stamp everything?

  5. #5 |  sheenyglass | 

    @WWJGD – If there is a valid search warrant, its not a request. Google is legally obligated to allow the search. That is why the magistrate is supposed to scrutinize it to make sure there is probable cause. So the magistrate dropped the ball as well.

  6. #6 |  WWJGD | 

    Whoopsie. Glossed over the wrong parts and didn’t see it labeled as a search warrant.

  7. #7 |  Juice | 

    South Park style? It’s just Xtranormal.

  8. #8 |  John David Galt | 

    Three cheers for Google for letting the public know about it. The next step, if there is one, will require voters to do something.

  9. #9 |  Michael Pack | 

    See,as I said here the other day,everyone is guilty of something.If you Roofing you house or making fun of LEO’s on the internet or a 8 year old selling lemonade.Can anyone tell me a activity that doesn’t need the blessing of the state?

  10. #10 |  ClubMedSux | 

    What pegr @3 said.

  11. #11 |  Ken | 

    Dammit to hell. You beat me to the blog post.

  12. #12 |  Michael Chaney | 

    This is why absolute immunity for prosecutors *and* judges needs to go away. There’s absolutely no reason for a judge to not sign everything put in front of him. On the other hand, if he faced civil and/or criminal liability for signing off on the wrong thing, there would be a good reason to not do it.

  13. #13 |  Roho | 

    “Upon being contacted about the incident, Renton City Police Chief Kevin Milosevich stated that he believes that the Constitution was urinated on according to standard, proper procedure. He has full confidence that the internal investigation will reveal that all officials acted appropriately as they passed the 200-year-old document from person to person, each taking a turn to blow their nose into it.”

  14. #14 |  TW Slade | 

    The 1st amendemnt to the constitution permits free speech. This type of case has been tried time and time again. A public figure or group of public figures is subject to any sort of parody – particularly when they do something stupid like pay attention to an online cartoon that would otherwise be un noticed.

    Perhaps the Renton cops would be happier if the US adopted the mid-20th century laws that Germany enacted in 1933 that also “protected” a police force and political authority!

  15. #15 |  Mannie | 

    The Renton Police are cowardly jackoffs, and the Renton Prosecutor fellates dead donkeys. The moron of a judge who signed the warrant is a eunuch.

    Come and get me motherfuckers!

  16. #16 |  JD the elder | 

    I just really want to see the state try and bring a case called “The People vs. Mr. Fiddlesticks”, just for the humor value.

  17. #17 |  Matt | 

    Hopefully we will see the Streisand effect in full force with this situation. Looks like it has already started.

  18. #18 |  Bob | 

    So, basically…

    They believe a cop is behind the videos, and are subverting the courts to find out who it is so they can harass him properly through the Chain of Command.

    It’s the new Professionalism in action!

  19. #19 |  Difster | 

    Hopefully whoever did this was smart enough to post using an anonymous proxy.

  20. #20 |  p gibson | 

    proving that cops are really thin-skinned pussies.

    yup – all of them.

    overpayed, to boot.

    sort of like state prostitutes.

  21. #21 |  Nony Mouse | 

    First amendment violation? Report it to the FBI:

    18 USC 241 Conspiracy against rights
    18 USC 242 Deprivation of rights under color of law

    And the county sheriff:
    RCW 9A.36.070 Coercion
    RCW 9A.80.010 Official misconduct
    RCW 36.28.011 Duty to make complaint
    RCW 42.20.100 Failure of duty by public officer a midemeanor

  22. #22 |  JS | 

    TW Slade “Perhaps the Renton cops would be happier if the US adopted the mid-20th century laws that Germany enacted in 1933 that also “protected” a police force and political authority!”

    Of course they would. That’s exactly what they want.

  23. #23 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    We condemn the primitive Muslim jihad against the Scandanavian
    cartoonist who showed Mohammed’s face, then this…
    which raises the question, in our culture, are cops God?????

  24. #24 |  Andrew Roth | 

    New rule: if you don’t want to be made fun of, don’t become a fucking cop or prosecutor. You’re a public official, and mud has a way of being slung uphill.

  25. #25 |  rapscallion | 

    This makes me want to start a campaign to bombard the Renton prosecutor office with, “I am Fiddlesticks!” emails.

  26. #26 |  Psion | 

    Prosecutorial immunity? Not to a community that does what it should and evicts the bastards from office physically. After a proper tarring and feathering, of course.

  27. #27 |  Andrew Roth | 

    I can see something like this happen in my current hometown, Eureka, CA. Our recently fired chief, Garr Nielsen, had a lot of enemies among the cretinous old-timers in the ranks. The image of his head protruding from the body of a dead fish really resonated for some of his cops.

    Rumor has it that Nielsen was a jerk and a capricious bully. Maybe so. It seems that a lot of his cops were out of control, though, and on the whole EPD is one shitty agency.

    I’d like to think that the Humboldt County Superior Court judges give a damn about the constitution and procedure, but I don’t really believe it. Our DA, Paul Gallegos, has allegedly played fast and loose on procedure (e.g., construing denial of consent to searches as PC), and I’ve heard nothing about his office being censured in court. We have a long tradition of God-awful law enforcement conduct.

    Also, we have armed county code enforcers. Now, where could that possibly go wrong.

  28. #28 |  John C. Randolph | 

    The 1st amendemnt to the constitution permits free speech.

    NO IT DOESN’T. The first amendment PROHIBITS the government from infringing our right to free speech. The constitution does not create our rights, nor does it make any claim to do so. Our rights predate the constitution, and we overthrew our king for violating our rights.

    Our right to free speech is a natural right, and it remains our right even if the constitution is someday amended so that it no longer pretends to protect our rights.

    -jcr

  29. #29 |  Cyto | 

    #27 | John C. Randolph |

    Thanks John. Though it might sound like a slight distinction, it is a critical difference. Our rights are innate and inalienable. They are not granted by any institution of man. In the constitution the people of the United States grant a limited set of powers to the government (based in ceding some limited subset of those inalienable rights).

    Unfortunately, very few in the government today understand or agree with this concept. Least of all on the US Supreme court.

  30. #30 |  Cyto | 

    #27 | John C. Randolph |

    Thanks John. Though it might sound like a slight distinction, it is a critical difference. Our rights are innate and inalienable. They are not granted by any institution of man. In the constitution the people of the United States grant a limited set of powers to the government (based in ceding some limited subset of those inalienable rights).

    Unfortunately, very few in the government today understand or agree with this concept. Least of all on the US Supreme court.

  31. #31 |  elcid1390 | 

    I hope the Renton PD has cleared all 4,322 property crimes they reported to the FBI in 2009. I’m sure all 800 burglary victims saw their property recovered and returned to them and the criminals responsible arrested. Same goes for the 3,041 larceny victims they reported in the same year. Chief Milosevic must feel great knowing that he and the brave, tireless men and women working under him have given some small measure of closure to the victims of the thirty two rapes that were reported by citizens in his charge during the same period by tracking down and arresting the perpetrator(s) of same.

    Otherwise, his office’s pursuit of people posting stupid (not to mention completely legal) cartoons to the internet might come off as a pathetic waste of valuable city money and man hours, never mind the troubling legal and ethical issues it raises. In fact, if I was a victim of one of the five thousand or so real crimes that occurred in Renton in 2009 and the police and prosecutor’s offices hadn’t resolved my (hypothetical) victimization to my complete satisfaction, I’d be upset. I might ask, in as public a forum as possible, why law enforcement is using the courts to find out who’s being mean to them on Youtube while actual victims of violent crime are forced to live without redress.

    Good thing I don’t live in Renton.

  32. #32 |  SmegMa | 

    Renton is already a joke (and a shithole), they’re just making it worse.

  33. #33 |  Ariel | 

    The punishment is in the process. After Google rolls over and shows its belly, and Renton gets the name, the case will proceed through the labyrinth until it hits the State Supremes. After they go “well, yeah, that’s what the law says”, and if the defendant has either enough money or the ACLU does its job, the SCOTUS may decide too broad (I’d prefer a decision that was a one liner “are you really that stupid?).

    So then the defendant, unless somehow, someway, is awarded lawyer’s fees because this is so egregiously stupid, declares bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the police have earned overtime and maybe a medal for bravery in the face of satire.

    Am I cynical? Really, you think so? Remember the medals for a botched, wrong-door SWAT-like raid? I’m not cynical, I’m educated.

  34. #34 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    It’s going to be hard for the prosecuter to prove intent to embarass, given that the Renton Police Department apparently has absolutely no sense of shame.

  35. #35 |  New York Cynic | 

    Wow what a bunch of wimps, they get completely hurt over a cartoon. Maybe they should teach humor at law school and at the police academy.

  36. #36 |  Michael | 

    If you’re the one trying to uncover someone’s identity, you’re the stalker.

  37. #37 |  Michael | 

    What is it called, Streisand effect? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Streisand_effect

  38. #38 |  Michael | 

    Sorry to post so many times separately, but a question:
    How can you claim someone is stalking you when you don’t know how they are getting their information?

    I could understand maybe if a stranger is peeking in your house or following you around, but if you don’t have any evidence that they get their information legitimately, how is it stalking?

    Where I live, a threat of violence is required for any claims of stalking or restraining orders.

  39. #39 |  derfel cadarn | 

    Tar and feathers, anyone up for pitchforks and torches? The poice are the single largest threat to the American way that can be imagined. Hopefully laughter and ridicule will be enough to put them in their proper place. When one cannot see humor in themselves they have a serious mental problem, it is obvious that this is the case here.

  40. #40 |  james | 

    They ought to dangle that prosecutor up by his balls. same w the judge that signed off on the warrant. Obviously the Renton Police Dept. has problems if it feels it needs to investigate something this trivial. Time to sack the chief I’d say

  41. #41 |  Bob | 

    Michael:

    Simple. It’s called “Under the cover of law.” Sure, YOU wouldn’t be able to convince the Police to get a search warrant like this. YOU would have to prove threat of violence or whatever.

    But these are cops. They can just go to whichever local judge they know will rubber stamp just about any retarded warrant for them.

    And of course, the local Prosecutor, who is happy to curry favor with them is happy to play along.

    And these people can do this with almost complete impunity.

    What, you thought you lived in a world where EVERYONE was equal under the law? LOL

    It’s fairly clear that the Search Warrant is just to discover the identity of the person who made the cartoons… a person the Police Brass think is a Police Officer. Once the identity is found, that person will be harassed and dumped on until fired. I don’t think there was ever an expectation of filing a “Cyberstalking” charge. That was just the excuse to get a Judge to rubber stamp the Warrant.

    Welcome to “Police Professionalism”.

  42. #42 |  TC | 

    Being Stupit aint against law.

    Proving it by filing a complaint in court?

  43. #43 |  steve | 

    Does anybody have a link to the cartoons? A search on MrFiddlesticks doesn’t seem to get them.

  44. #44 |  indio007 | 

    IF there is a valid search warrant. Just because a judge signs a piece of paper doesn’t make it valid. It has to be supported by direct personal knowledge from a competent witness for first hand information about the truth. About 90% of warrants get by without this mandatory requirement. too bad no on fights for their rights and sues the criminal judges. They only have limited and qualified immunity.

  45. #45 |  croaker | 

    Threadjack:

    TSA’s War On Diabetics

    http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/28773212/detail.html

  46. #46 |  croaker | 

    @41 Something like this happened in Colonie NY a few years back. Anonymous charges of financial misconduct on the part of town officers. The town prosecutor (at the instructions of the board) falsified a search warrant to get the ISP to release the names of the two Colonie EMS personnel who made the allegations.

    Lots of fun ensued. What should have happened was town officials in Sing Sing, but that never happened.

  47. #47 |  Just Plain Brian | 

    Does anybody have a link to the cartoons? A search on MrFiddlesticks doesn’t seem to get them.

    Streisand Effect

  48. #48 |  Laura Victoria | 

    I did a Hitler downfall parody of infamous bicyclist-busting DA of Kobe Bryant infamay, Mark Hurlbert during last year’s election campaign for state Senate in Colorado. As bad as he is, and as much as he hated my video, even he wouldn’t have tried this move.

    Although their immunity protects them from suit, they may beat the rap but can’t necessarily beat the ride – the ride in my game plan is to make their lives as miserable as possible legally. I suggest Agitators and friends call up the various players and question them about it.

    Judge James Cayce can be reached at: James D. Cayce, Judge, 206-296-9444. I’ll be calling promptly at 8:00 a.m. PDT.

    Ironically, I was just getting ready to email this story to Radley after reading about it on Volokh, where EV cites the overly broad statutory language.

  49. #49 |  Laura Victoria | 

    Here’s a link to KIRO7 News, which broke the story. It contains several of the videos. http://www.kirotv.com/investigations/28758502/detail.html

  50. #50 |  ceanf | 

    remember when these types of laws came out a few years ago, after the girl committed suicide over facebook, and the supporters of these laws said they would never be misused by prosecutors, that they would be applied with thought and discretion? guess we can throw that out the window, as they are now being used as a tool by angry pigs and prosecutors to silence speech that they do not like. not only do the prosecutor and chief need to be fired, the judge with the rubber stamp who signed off on this warrant needs to be removed from the bench as well. this is absolutely ridiculous and i would hope that google and the ISP gives them a big ef off when they come knocking.

    all these caylee’s law supporters who got their panties all in a bunch need to have a look at what is going on here as a lesson in what happens with these kinds of rash, poorly thought out laws intended to protect the childrun.

  51. #51 |  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…

  52. #52 |  Laura Victoria | 

    Police Chief “Responds” http://www.kirotv.com/news/28771556/detail.html.

    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.

  53. #53 |  “Cartoonist Faces Prosecution for Videos Mocking Police” | 

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

  54. #54 |  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.

  55. #55 |  Larry | 

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

  56. #56 |  joel | 

    What will happen if the cartoonist is a Police Officer?

  57. #57 |  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 […]

  58. #58 |  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.

  59. #59 |  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.

  60. #60 |  Tom | 

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

  61. #61 |  Monica | 

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

  62. #62 |  TXSwede | 

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

  63. #63 |  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!?!?!

  64. #64 |  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!

  65. #65 |  Joe | 

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

  66. #66 |  JOR | 

    Yizmo @23, the answer is yes.

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