A Virginia woman who blogged about an undercover police task force – posting their pictures and at least one home address – was arrested for the content of her blog in a case that might end up setting precedent for the First Amendment in the cyber age.
Elisha Strom, 34, was charged with one count of harassment of a police officer.
Police raided her home on July 16, seizing computers, cameras and notebooks. She remains incarcerated and it is not clear from the article whether she is allowed to bond out. Her next court appearance is September 17.
Her blog detailed the daily activities of the Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement Task Force (JADE). The title of her blog, I Hearte JADE, is supposed to be interpreted as “I Hate JADE.”
Police accuse her of putting their lives in danger because she is blowing their cover
Her blog contains head shots of several of the officers as well as one officer getting into his unmarked car in front of his house.
On July 3rd, she posted the home address of a Charlottesville police sergeant.
However, she maintains that all the photographs she has taken were in public, so therefore legal. And she also learned of the sergeant’s address through public records, as she explains on her blog post.
In the days leading up to the raid, police warned her to stop her postings, including threatening her with the following Virginia statute:
§ 18.2-186.4. Use of a person’s identity with the intent to coerce, intimidate, or harass; penalty.
It shall be unlawful for any person, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, or harass another person, to publish the person’s name or photograph along with identifying information as defined in clauses (iii) through (ix), or clause (xii) of subsection C of § 18.2-186.3, including identification of the person’s primary residence address. Any person who violates this section is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Any person who violates this section knowing or having reason to know that person is a law-enforcement officer, as defined in § 9.1-101, is guilty of a Class 6 felony. The sentence shall include a mandatory minimum term of confinement of six months.
So it really boils down to how the judge or jury define “harassment.”
Her final post, dated July 16 at 7:00 a.m., simply states, “Uh oh, They’re here.”
Last year, police sent her the following letter warning her to stop her actions, which she posted on her blog:
Dear Ms. [Me]
Personnel of the Charlottesville Police Department and the Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement Task Force brought to my attention your recent behavior directed towards them. The most troubling behaviors they identified consisted of following police officers while they are on duty, photographing them or their personal property, and publishing potentially identifying information about them on readily accessible public media.
The purpose of this correspondence is to notify you that your behavior is interfering with the ability of these officers to conduct necessary and appropriate law enforcement activities. I presume that you may be unaware of the degree to which following and photographing police investigators may constitute a material interference with their work. This is especially true with narcotics enforcement officers who must be able to meet with citizens, suspects, and others with complete confidence that they have not been followed and are not being watched. These officers must be able to assure confidential informants and operatives that their anonymity is being scrupulously maintained.
Furthermore, your behavior is placing officers in fear for their safety and that of their families. I presume that you may not have been aware previously that officers live on a daily basis with the concern that their families will be subjected to danger as a result of their work. Your behavior in following officers to their homes and posting photographs of their property on publicly accessible media places officers in fear for their safety and that of their families. Posting identifying information about officers and their property on publicly accessible media makes it easier for those who might do them harm to gain information that can be used to do just that.
I urge you to stop the activities in which you have been involved as they are interfering with the work of law enforcement officers in the City of Charlottesville. Continuation of your behavior may further disrupt their work and may obstruct ongoing law enforcement efforts that are being undertaken on behalf of our community.
Furthermore, I urge you to cease the behaviors you have exhibited that place officers in fear for their safety and that of their families.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter with you in person. Please feel free to contact me at [555-555-5555]
Timothy J. Longo, Sr.
Chief of Police
I am a multimedia journalist who has been fighting a lengthy legal battle after having photographed Miami police against their wishes in Feb. 2007. Please help the fight by donating to my Legal Defense Fund in the top left sidebar, which helps pay for the thousands of dollars I’ve acrued in debt since my arrest. To keep updated on the latest articles, join my networks at Facebook, Twitter and Friendfeed.