Man sues city for ar­rest over Face­book page

Dayton Daily News - - LOCAL & STATE - By Dake Kang

A man charged CLEVE­LAND — with and ac­quit­ted of a felony for cre­at­ing a fake Face­book page that par­o­died a sub­ur­ban Cleve­land po­lice depart­ment is su­ing the city, say­ing they vi­o­lated his right to free speech.

An­thony No­vak filed the law­suit Tues­day against the city of Parma and three of­fi­cers. He cre­ated a Face­book page in March 2016 that ap­peared sim­i­lar to the page of Parma’s po­lice depart­ment and posted items sug­gest­ing po­lice were per­form­ing free abor­tions for teenagers. The page also sug­gested it would be il­le­gal to help the home­less for three months and had a re­cruit­ment post “strongly en­cour­ag­ing mi­nori­ties to not ap­ply.”

Parma po­lice an­nounced an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the page the day it was cre­ated. No­vak, 28, took the page down less than 12 hours af­ter putting it up. Of­fi­cers sent Face­book a let­ter re­quest­ing that the Menlo Park, Cal­i­for­nia-based com­pany shut the page down, and they is­sued a sub­poena to ob­tain No­vak’s iden­tity.

No­vak was charged with dis­rupt­ing pub­lic ser­vices, a fourth-de­gree felony that car­ries a sen­tence of up to 18 months in prison. A SWAT team raided his apart­ment and con­fis­cated his lap­tops, cell­phones, tablets and gam­ing con­soles.

No­vak and his at­tor­neys called it a “sham in­ves­ti­ga­tion” that vi­o­lated No­vak’s con­sti­tu­tional rights to free speech and pro­tec­tion from un­rea­son­able seizure.

“This is one of the most ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­am­ples of gov­ern­ment re­tal­i­a­tion I have ever seen,” said Su­bodh Chan­dra, No­vak’s at­tor­ney. “The idea that po­lice of­fi­cers would jail and pros­e­cute some­one for crit­i­ciz­ing them is fun­da­men­tally ab­hor­rent to who we are as Amer­i­cans.”

A po­lice spokesman did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to calls and emails seek­ing com­ment.

Dur­ing No­vak’s trial, of­fi­cers said they were wor­ried that pro­test­ers would show up at the po­lice sta­tion be­cause of the “so­cially con­tentious” post­ings. State pros­e­cu­tors said the fake page dis­rupted pub­lic ser­vices by prompt­ing 10 un­nec­es­sary calls to po­lice dis­patch­ers.

No­vak’s at­tor­neys said that no protests took place, that there was no ev­i­dence po­lice were wor­ried about protests, and that the page was ob­vi­ous satire pro­tected by the con­sti­tu­tion. They ar­gued that the calls to po­lice were brief and did not dis­rupt their op­er­a­tions. A jury ac­quit­ted No­vak in Au­gust 2016.

The law­suit seeks fi­nan­cial com­pen­sa­tion, le­gal fees and an in­junc­tion against Parma po­lice. It also asks for the re­turn of No­vak’s elec­tronic de­vices.

“Mr. No­vak is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing on­go­ing chill­ing of his free speech,” Chan­dra said. “They’ve of­fered no guar­an­tee that they will not re­tal­i­ate again.”

It is the sec­ond law­suit No­vak has filed against Parma. The first one asked a judge to de­clare the law un­der which No­vak was charged un­con­sti­tu­tional. It was dropped be­cause of “de­fi­cien­cies” in the com­plaint, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

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