Cartoonist Targeted With Criminal Probe For Mocking Police
By Chris Halsne
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. While the city wants to criminalize the cartoons, First Amendment rights advocates say the move is an “extreme abuse of power.”
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.
The series of web-based short cartoons feature a mustachioed street cop and a short-haired female bureaucrat. The dry, at times, witty banter between the two touches on some embarrassing insider secrets, some of which seem to match up with internal affairs investigations on file within Renton PD.
Cartoon Character of Officer: “Is there any reason why an anonymous video, with no identifying information that ties it to the department or city is being taken more seriously than officers having sex on duty, arguing with outside agencies while in a drunken stupor off duty, sleeping while on duty, throwing someone off a bridge, and having inappropriate relationships with coworkers and committing adultery?”
Cartoon Character of Bureaucrat: “The reason is that internal dirt is internal. The department will crucify certain people and take care of others.”
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.
KIRO Team 7 Investigators went to the City Attorney’s office to ask the chief prosecutor, Shawn Arthur, his motivations to criminalize cartoon creators. Halsne was told to leave a handwritten note. We did not hear back from Arthur. A similar thing happened at the Renton police department. A spokesperson told Halsne that Chief Kevin Milosevich was unavailable.