Supreme Court Turns Down Parody Case Backed by the Onion

From a Wall Street Journal story by Joseph Pisani headlined “Supreme Court Turns Down Facebook Police Parody Case Backed by the Onion”:

When Anthony Novak created a parody Facebook account of his local police department seven years ago, he said he had one goal.

“I just thought it would make my Facebook friends laugh,” he said.

Instead, the fake page landed him in jail for four days. He sued and tried to bring his case up to the Supreme Court. His case got the support of the Onion, one of the most famous satire sites in the U.S.

But Mr. Novak’s journey ended Tuesday when the Supreme Court said it wouldn’t hear his case. The court didn’t say why, in keeping with its normal practice for such orders.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Mr. Novak.

Mr. Novak, a 34-year-old salesman for a home-improvement company, said he created the fake page in March 2016 because he was bored and didn’t think much of the police department in the Cleveland suburb of Parma, Ohio.

“I think they were ripe to be made fun of,” he said.

The fake page looked almost identical to the official police department page. There was one difference: He created a fake motto, “We no crime.”

Mr. Novak wrote several posts on the page. One was the false news that Parma residents would be jailed for 60 days if they gave food to the homeless.

Police took it seriously.

“The Parma Police Department would like to warn the public that a fake Parma Police Facebook page has been created,” it said.

Police said in court documents that comments under Mr. Novak’s post appeared to show that people believed it.

“When I am home on leave from serving this beautiful nation, I will make it my #1 priority to feed the homeless in front of one of your police stations,” one of the commenters said.

After he saw his posts make the news, Mr. Novak deleted the fake page. It was up for less than a day, he said.

Mr. Novak was arrested a few weeks later, and spent four days in jail. He was charged with disrupting police functions and was later found not guilty by a jury.

In 2017, he sued the city for violating his civil rights. A court of appeals said the police were protected by qualified immunity, which shields police officers and other officials from certain claims. Advocates say the legal doctrine helps law enforcement do their job, while critics say it makes it difficult for victims of abusive policing to sue the perpetrators.

Mr. Novak appealed to the Supreme Court last year. In October, the Onion filed what is known as an amicus brief in support of Mr. Novak.

“Americans can be put in jail for poking fun at the government? This was a surprise to America’s Finest News Source,” the amicus brief said. It also referred to the Supreme Court justices as “total Latin dorks” for using the ancient language in documents.

Mike Gillis, head writer for the Onion, said Tuesday he was disappointed.

“The Onion admits that it lacks access to the divine knowledge guiding the nine Supreme Court Justices’ hands,” he said. “As such, all Americans must yield immediately to the court’s mysterious ways, avoiding rash appeals to disproved ideas such as inalienable human rights or freedom of speech.”

Richard Rezie, a lawyer for Parma, said the Supreme Court’s order not to hear the case vindicates Parma and its police department. The city and the police department have consistently maintained that Mr. Novak’s behavior wasn’t for satirical purposes, Mr. Rezie said.

“Several sites make fun of the police,” he said. The city and police department “have always worked with protesters to protect and ensure their First Amendment rights.”

Mr. Novak said he no longer felt comfortable in Parma and moved to nearby Cleveland. He said he gets recognized when he goes to Parma, including a couple of months ago in a Chipotle parking lot. “I’m a very localized celebrity,” he said.

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