An Ohio man facing criminal charges for making a satire Facebook page mocking the Parma Police Department got the last laugh last week after he was acquitted by a jury that unanimously decided the page did not violate the state’s felony disrupting public services law.
Anthony Novak made international headlines after he created the satire page on March 2 and posted jokes like suggesting helping the homeless was illegal for three months, encouraging minorities not to apply to the department and announcing a police-sponsored ‘Pedophile Reform’ event that offered sex offenders a chance to become an “honorary police officer of the Parma Police Department.”
Parma Police didn’t find the page funny, claiming it was a “risk to public safety.”
Even though Novak took the page down after less than a day, a SWAT team raided his apartment at gunpoint three weeks later, while his roommate sat on the toilet, seizing all of their electronic equipment including laptops, his roommates laptops, cellphones and gaming consoles.
But Novak wasn’t home.
Later that day, Novak was leaving a convenient store when a police cruiser pulled up.
“We even tried to walk past it because we’re like, someone’s screwed,” he told Cleveland.com. “Somebody came up to me and said, ‘Fake Parma Police Facebook page.'”
“And then they arrested me.”
In the video interview with Cleveland.com, posted below, Novak said he forgot about the page after he deleted it and said, “I didn’t think it would go past my friends on Facebook; the fact that it went viral so quickly is why I got noticed. I didn’t expect that at all.”
While he sat in jail over the weekend, news of his arrest also went viral, making international headlines.
“My roommate called in to tell my boss that I had been arrested, and they said don’t bother, we saw it on TV,” Novak recalled. “People were coming and wanting to take my photograph, because I had been arrested for a felony.”
After his arrest, several other parody accounts of the Parma Police Department have been created in protest including “The Parma Police Department,” “For Real Parma Police Department Page,” and “City of Parma Police.”
As of yet, no news reports have surfaced of those page creators being arrested.
After a grand jury indicted him on a fourth-degree felony for disrupting public service by creating the satire page, a charge that carries up to 18 months in prison, Novak declined a plea offer to dismiss the felony if he pleaded guilty to a lessor charge.
“I knew that I didn’t do anything wrong. I wasn’t going to plead guilty to something that wasn’t wrong in the first place.”
Disrupting public service charge laws have historically been used when someone sabotages physical transmission facilities or jams frequencies, but not for protesting an unconstitutional police department.
Gary Vick, Novak’s attorney, filed several motions to dismiss the felony arguing the satire Facebook page is a form of protected free speech.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Maureen Clancy denied the motions.
After Parma cops testified at trial that his Facebook page prompted 911 calls that distracted the Parma police department’s emergency dispatchers, a jury decided unanimously to acquit Novak of the felony charge.
“They claimed that those calls disrupted their dispatch function even though the function of dispatch is to take calls and deal with the public,” Vick said.
The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the Parma Police Department and Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office saying the case shouldn’t have came this far in this first place because it’s “clearly protected by the First Amendment.”
“The ability to make commentary using satire and parody is so important to our ability to express ourselves and hold the state accountable for its actions,” ACLU Attorney Elizabeth Bonham, who is watching the case, said. “To show that speech can be unprotected, the state has a very, very high burden to show that it was actually and imminently going to cause harm.
Novak said he plans to file a civil rights lawsuit against the Parma Police Department and the individuals involved in his arrest, claiming they violated his First Amendment rights.
After his acquittal on Thursday, the Parma Police department still haven’t returned his or his roommate’s electronics.
Novak said he doesn’t regret creating the page and wants to send a message by suing the department for violating his right to parody.
“I just want them to pay for what they did. They maliciously arrested me because they were mad about what I said,” he said. “I live in Parma right now and it makes me a little uneasy that my police department probably doesn’t like me.”
Below is a Facebook Live interview conducted by Cleveland.com of Novak and his attorney discussing his arrest and trial and plans to sue. Click here to see the original posting and read the comments.
While it’s refreshing the jury sided with the First Amendment in this case, another Parma jury convicted another man earlier this year for First Amendment related activity, including video recording police in public and holding up signs warning drivers of an upcoming checkpoint.