Fake Peoria mayor Twitter account prompts real raid of West Bluff house
PEORIA — Police searched a West Bluff house Tuesday and seized phones and computers in an effort to unmask the author of a parody Twitter account that purported to be Mayor Jim Ardis.
The account — known as @Peoriamayor on the popular social media service that limits entries to 140 characters — already had been suspended for several weeks when up to seven plainclothes police officers executed a search warrant about 5:20 p.m. at 1220 N. University St.
Three people at the home were taken to the Peoria Police Department for questioning. Two other residents were picked up at their places of employment and taken to the station, as well.
One resident — 36-year-old Jacob L. Elliott — was booked into the Peoria County Jail on charges of possessing 30 to 500 grams of marijuana and possessing drug paraphernalia, but no arrests were made in connection with the Twitter account.
“They just asked me about the Twitter account, if I knew anything about it,” said Michelle Pratt, 27, a resident who was in the shower when officers first arrived at the front door. “They brought me in like I was a criminal.”
Pratt, who is Elliott’s girlfriend, said she spent more than three hours alone in an interview room before being questioned by detectives. One other resident, who declined to be identified, said he spent considerably less time in custody but was subject to the same type of questions.
“They said they had a search warrant and took all the electronic devices that had Internet access,” Pratt said. “They said there had been an Internet crime that occurred at this residence.”
Peoria Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard said officers were investigating the creator of the Twitter account for false personation of a public official. The offense is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and up to a year in jail.
The @Peoriamayor account began in late February or early March with a photo of Ardis and a bio that stated he enjoyed serving the city and included his city email address.
The content of tweets, or entries on the account, ranged from ambiguous to offensive, with repeat references to sex and drugs — and comparisons of Ardis to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford as Ford’s drug use while in office became public.
By about March 10, the bio of the Twitter account was changed to indicate it was a parody account.
Settingsgaard, however, said the intent of the account was not clearly satirical.
“I don’t agree it was obvious, and in fact it appears that someone went to great lengths to make it appear it was actually from the mayor,” Settingsgaard said in an email response to questions.
Ardis did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
By late March, the @Peoriamayor account was suspended by Twitter. It had about 50 tweets and just as many followers.
“A parody means it’s fake. It was even listed as fake,” Pratt said. “It was a joke Twitter account, and they searched the whole house.”
How dare the public think it's acceptable to make fun of their betters. Serves them right.