Police Seek To Prosecute Persecute Unknown Cartoonist

Submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

Police in Renton, Washington are seeking an unknown cartoonist for cyberstalking.  To that end, officials have obtained a search warrant from a local judge to discover the identity of the anonymous cartoonist.  The alleged crime this cartoonist committed?  Posting cartoons online parodying the Renton Police Department and referring to real life internal affairs incidents at the Renton PD in the dialog.  It is important to note that neither is the Renton Police Department named nor are the real names of any people attached to the Renton Police Department are used in the cartoons linked posted by KIRO TV.   The videos are not in a format that can be embedded in WordPress, but the Jail Parody and the Locker Room Parody can both be seen at KIRO TV’s website.

Parody is protected free speech in many cases, but the case law is unclear in providing bright line definitions of what does and what doesn’t qualify as parody.  This often leads to detailed case by case examination of claims.  When the parody involves copyrighted materials, there are guidelines and tests to apply in determining if the parody is legitimate.  Generally speaking, there are two lines of defense involving parody: the free speech defense based in Constitutional law and the fair use defense based in copyright law.  As these parodies do not involve copyrighted materials, the fair use defense is not relevant here.  The free speech defense is another matter.  As a matter of Constitutional law, parody is protected free speech.  Is the Renton Police Department attempting to use a criminal statute to persecute a critic engaging in critical parody and repress the cartoonist’s 1st Amendment Free Speech rights?  Some think that’s exactly what they are doing.

KIRO TV brought the matter to the attention of attorney Venkat Balasubramani, an expert in cyber-law and constitutional issues.  After reviewing several of the parody videos and the court documents, Mr. Balasubramani offered the following opinions.  “The cyberstalking angle doesn’t pass the laugh test. 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 Balasubramani was asked about a more likely scenario, he 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.'”

In Washington state, cyberstalking is defined by the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 9.61.260 as follows:

(1) A person is guilty of cyberstalking if he or she, with intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass any other person, and under circumstances not constituting telephone harassment, makes an electronic communication to such other person or a third party:

(a) Using any lewd, lascivious, indecent, or obscene words, images, or language, or suggesting the commission of any lewd or lascivious act;

(b) Anonymously or repeatedly whether or not conversation occurs; or

(c) Threatening to inflict injury on the person or property of the person called or any member of his or her family or household.

(2) Cyberstalking is a gross misdemeanor, except as provided in subsection (3) of this section.

(3) Cyberstalking is a class C felony if either of the following applies:

(a) The perpetrator has previously been convicted of the crime of harassment, as defined in RCW 9A.46.060, with the same victim or a member of the victim’s family or household or any person specifically named in a no-contact order or no-harassment order in this or any other state; or

(b) The perpetrator engages in the behavior prohibited under subsection (1)(c) of this section by threatening to kill the person threatened or any other person.

(4) Any offense committed under this section may be deemed to have been committed either at the place from which the communication was made or at the place where the communication was received.

(5) For purposes of this section, “electronic communication” means the transmission of information by wire, radio, optical cable, electromagnetic, or other similar means. “Electronic communication” includes, but is not limited to, electronic mail, internet-based communications, pager service, and electronic text messaging.

After initial attempts by KIRO TV to contact both the City Attorney’s office and the Renton Police Department for comment concerning the motivation of the charges were rebuffed, the Renton Police Department finally issued a statement on Thursday.  “Some of the videos are incidents of misconduct, some are unsubstantiated, some are rumors, some are previous internal investigations that were found to be unfounded and some are just flat out untrue and lies.  I would rather err on the side of investigating all complaints (and) alleged criminal misconduct rather than risk failing to investigate a crime that’s been reported,” said Renton Police Chief Kevin Milosevich.  Some might think that statement sounds more like an excuse rather than an answer to whether the charges are proper or not.

Do you think the cartoons are protected free speech parody or legitimate cyberstalking?  Is the Washington statute the Renton Police are attempting to use over broad and subject to Constitutional abuses?  Is the Renton Police Department seeking to use criminal law to persecute and prosecute an artist’s permissible exercise of free speech rights?

What do you think?

Source: KIROTV.com (1), (2), RCW

~Submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

61 thoughts on “Police Seek To Prosecute Persecute Unknown Cartoonist

  1. This has to be one of the craziest things I have ever read…but then somebody suggested I read about these folks:

    United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review. I did and now I am really scared…….

  2. But this I recall from a few years ago…

    Police Say Tacoma Chief Kills Wife, Self
    Posted on 04/26/2003 8:19:33 PM PDT by KansasCanadian

    Police Say Tacoma Chief Kills Wife, Self

    The Associated Press Apr 26 2003 10:49PM

    GIG HARBOR, Wash. (AP) – Tacoma Police Chief David Brame was killed and his wife was injured in an apparent murder-suicide attempt Saturday, a day after abuse allegations in the couple’s divorce case were publicized in media reports.

    “The probability is strong that the chief shot his wife and then himself,” Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said.


    which is less than 20 miles away…

  3. Cached and no longer available via the local site, apparently… I hate it when they do that, so I’m posting it…


    Renton Police Department investigating possible cyberstalking of three police employees

    Renton Reporter Editor
    Aug 04 2011, 7:02 PM

    As part of a cyberstalking investigation, the Renton Police Department is considering the possibility that a department employee or someone close to the department posted nine videos on YouTube.

    The videos were posted in April in an attempt to “embarrass and emotionally torment” three employees of the Police Department, according to an affidavit filed to obtain a search warrant used in the investigation.

    Police Chief Kevin Milosevich briefed the media on the investigation Thursday afternoon in front of Renton City Hall.

    He indicated investigators don’t know if more than one person was involved in posting the videos.

    Earlier this year a department employee was demoted in a similar incident.

    The story was originally reported by KIRO TV, which posted two of the nine videos. The Police Department was releasing the other seven videos Thursday evening, which Milosevich said more clearly reveal why the city is investigating the videos as a crime.

    “The videos currently posted by a local media outlet are a very mild representation of the entirety of the contents,” Milosevich said. “The videos that are the basis of the criminal investigation are being released this afternoon.”

    The Renton Reporter will post those videos when technically possible.

    Milosevich initially read a prepared statement in which he said he would not discuss the details of the investigation. He said the department presented the facts in the case of cyberstalking to prosecutors.

    The facts, he said, “met the definition of a crime.”

    Milosevich had been asked whether the video parodies were constitutionally protected free speech.

    Under state law, a person “is guilty of cyberstalking if he or she, with intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass any other person, makes an electronic communication to such other person or a third party, using any lewd, lascivious, indecent, or obscene words, images, or language or suggesting the commission of any lewd or lascivious act.”

    Cyberstalking is misdemeanor, although there are specific requirements that could result in a felony charge.

    According to the affidavit for the search warrant, Milosevich discovered the videos online on April 16 but they were removed on April 20.

    “It was reported that the eight videos discussed topics, such as sexual relationships, sexual orientation, internal investigations, and negative working relationships within an unnamed Police Department,” according to the affidavit.

    According to the affidavit, three Police Department employees came forward to say they were targeted by “embarrassing and emotionally tormenting comments” regarding past sexual or dating relationships.

    Those relationships had resulted in departmental investigations; one of the employees was cleared, while complaints involving the other two were sustained, according to Milosevich.

    Milosevich indicated those internal investigations had no bearing on the current criminal investigation.

    The videos also refer the SCORE, or the regional jail known formally as South Correctional Facility. Renton is a partner in that jail with other South King County cities.

    A search warrant was issued in July seeking information from Google Legal Investigations Support, based in Mountain View, Calif.

    Investigators are for information about subscribers, e-mails, IP addresses user names and credit-card use. The videos were posted under the user names, Mrfuddlesticks, whothehellispenny and tellinthetruth.

    On July 26 Google Inc. provided the Renton Police Department information about the user account named Mrfuddlesticks, including an IP address. That user had signed up for the YouTube account on April 12.

    Renton Reporter Editor Dean Radford can be reached at editor@rentonreporter.com or 425-255-3484, ext. 5050.

  4. I hope they never find the guy/girl (men/women). I suspect it is a small, tight-knit group.

    Certainly the creators knew the administration would come looking … ridiculing those in high places bursts their inner ego-balloons causing an explosion that clouds whatever judgement they may possess. It reveals them for who they are and invites the community to smirk at that reality.

    What must be driving the administrators crazy is that they realize all this specific, internal, information points to an “inside” person or group of persons feeding the info to a creative outside source. In any paramilitary group such actions are mutinous and a threat to the chain of command … somebody must walk the plank.

    I suspect that, in reality, a small group got fed up with the shenanigans of the administrators; knew they were powerless to bring about change through official channels, so went stealth. From the content of the cartoons I would also suspect some legal advice was obtained before publication. This is no fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants operation.

    It’s a good plan in that it has caught the attention of the media and appears to be working.

    As the attorney from the news clip stated … cyberstalking? … it doesn’t pass the laugh test.

  5. I’ve never heard the word “cyber” used by anyone whose knowledge in the tech arena I trust.

    I think whenever someone is using the word “cyber,” every word out of their mouth should be considered with extreme skepticism.

    This is especially true for anyone working in government, amplified even further if it is used by someone in law enforcement.

    The word “cyber” should be a warning sign for you: whomever is using it is trying to scare you and take away your rights.

  6. The law itself is an affront against free speech. Furthermore it is an unnecessary law. Existing laws against threats already exist. Reading the law at its most liberal nearly any comment that is less than glowing could be “stalking”. Cartoonist, comics, political commentators, the general public and more would all be siting in jail if this law was fully enforced. Should Tina Fey be in jail for trying to embarrass Palin?

    Hell it seems a negative review of a movie, book, product, or whatever could be ruled illegal under this law provided it is posted online.

    Websites such as consumerist.com would equally seem to be breaking the law under the police’s interpretation.

    I imagine in many cases it would be nearly impossible to PROVE that the reason for the postings is”to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass any other person”. What if the intent is to inform and educate?

    I will agree that there should be facts to back up the postings. If they are making a cartoon about the mayor having “alone time” with barnyard animals it should either be clearly evident that it is just for humor or the author should be able to back up his claims with proof.

  7. I don’t believe in the state or any of its agencies being able to be considered victims of any crime outside of maybe sedition. Ridicule is one of the best weapons the public has against tyranny. How do you stalk a public agency anyway?

  8. “Ridicule is one of the best weapons the public has against tyranny. “(culheath)

    Right on … and it works!

  9. It is exactly what it looks like. This is to me analogous to and no more than a “SLAP” suit. This is an abuse of the law. The law is now being used to punish whistleblowers and stifle scientific and academic freedom.

    This is happening at more than the local level too:

    Star Polar Bear Scientist in the Dog House

    “Charles Monnett, a wildlife biologist with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) in Alaska, has been placed on administrative leave as the agency’s inspector general undertakes an investigation into unnamed “integrity issues.” But an environmental watchdog group believes that the real reason for the investigation is pressure from oil and gas interests who see polar bears as pests that stand between them and the vast mineral reserves deep beneath the Arctic. …. The paper, published in the journal Polar Biology in 2006, documented four dead polar bears in the Beaufort Sea during the course of an annual whale survey in September 2004. It was the first paper to document dead bears, and Monnett and his coauthor projected that there would likely be an increase in bear deaths as sea ice declined in the region. During their conversation, Monnett noted that the paper was reviewed both internally at Minerals Management Service (now known as BOEMRE) and by scientists outside of the agency, and it was approved by MMS management before they submitted it to the journal. At the journal, it was reviewed by three anonymous peer reviewers and approved for publication.”


    It’s an interesting article, BOEMRE apparently is the new name for the Mineral Management Services which was supposed to be restructured in response to the alleged (and pretty darn obvious) corruption of the MMS in the wake of the BP/Gulf crisis. The MMS was accused of virtually colluding with big energy to exploit energy resources in spite of the laws they were supposed to comply with.

    Apparently one of the first things the internal watchdog decided was of pressing need to investigate (and destroy if necessary) was one of the foremost scientists studying the effect of global warming on sea ice.

    That Leopard sure hasn’t changed it’s spots.

  10. culheath,

    Okay … how’s this:

    I’m quoting culheath who is quoting someone who is smarter than both of us!

  11. The judge, the police officer and the prosecutor are morons, and at the end of this process, they judge should be sanctioned, the prosecutor charged with prosecutorial misconduct and the police officer sent on to finish high school.

  12. Blouise: “I suspect that, in reality, a small group got fed up with the shenanigans of the administrators; knew they were powerless to bring about change through official channels, so went stealth. From the content of the cartoons I would also suspect some legal advice was obtained before publication. This is no fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants operation.”

    Your assessment has the right feel to it f’sure. These ‘whistle-blowers were some very frustrated wage-slaves.

    You are a lady that has had your ear to the ground and (I suspect) your feet on the treadmill for a long time. I would love to hear your stories (and I just know you have them) of the petit sabotage of the working class to which you are privy. That and a couple of beers- I’ll bring a nice Guacamole salad- would be a night of epic, EPIC! storytelling:-)

  13. steve k,

    And if all goes according to plan that is exactly what will happen which is why the administration is so damned scared and reaching so far down into their bag of tricks. Such desperation is karmic in nature and a beautiful thing to behold.

  14. culheath,

    Je vous remercie, mon bon monsieur. Lord, I hope that’s right … my french is very rusty …

  15. lottakatz,

    Stealth operations, in a good cause, are a hell of a lot of fun. Everybody has to keep theirs mouths firmly closed … no bragging and no gloating.

    I would thoroughly enjoy trading stories and drinking the night away … do you like Scrabble?

  16. I had waited to comment because I was speechless. This investigation does not pass the laugh–or the smell–test. It is difficult for me to comprehend any lawyer smart enough to pass the bar exam filing this complaint.

    I hope there is a dummy front on this matter similar to a WikiLeaks model. I would hate for it to be too easy for the investigator. The longer this is drawn out, the more the media will become interested in it, because this time, it is their ox that is being gored.

  17. Blouise: lottakatz, … do you like Scrabble?

    Actually yes, but my spelling is terrible. If creativity counted I’d win every time but people insisted on that darned ‘correct spelling’ technicality:-) I was thinking about Scrabble last night in fact; I haven’t played that in a long time.

  18. lottakatz,

    I allow dictionaries … everybody gets one and can look up any word they have said out loud for the correct spelling … it’s harder than it sounds. We play but we spend a lot of time talking, drinking and eating. It’s an excuse to get together. We even allow foreign words. Creativity is the name of the game when we play. Straight play is boring. Sometimes we allow players to go off one side of the board to come back on the other side … wrap around.

  19. The last time I played Scrabble, after a couple of hours they told me to leave. They did not want to play any more. 😦

    I will play if you won’t throw me out. 😀

  20. Oooooooh, wrap around:-) I swoon at the concept. OS, dictionaries for all should level the playing field. Unless they ask you to leave because you like, eat the tiles. I should bring a hand full of those small, individual wet-wipes too?

    Harder than it sounds with a dictionary. I imagine so! If you’re spelling it incorrectly to begin with based on the limited selection of tiles you have you could get in trouble pretty fast.

    Yes Scrabble and Yatzee (the dice poker-type game) were great hooks to get people around a table. Mass quantities of snacks were a plus.

  21. Gene, Considering that was Val Kilmers (be still my beating heart) famous line (I’ll be your huckleberry) in “Tombstone” right before he killed The Ringo Kid (or some other nefarious outlaw) can one take that as a challenge?

    Raf, I think this Scrabble table will have a bit of good natured ‘jeopardy’ for anyone that sits in.:-)

  22. What is the DA saying? Something along the lines of,”whoever did that lengthy commentary is really going to go full throttle and THE distance, meaning, out of county, district, whatever.”

    I mean, I guess the DA and Judge would say, “listen, police department, your stupid embarrassement is NOT going to be mine too.”

    At least that is what the government offices used to say before our US government controlled mafia would even fucking consider that Police can’t be video taped. I mean, what a joke right?

  23. Gene,

    You have something…am not sure what it is…but there are words to describe your symptoms….But a lexicographic should seem the symptoms first….Dr. H!

  24. And then again, where IS the local newspaper on this one, the local TV folks? If the local police have a problem, just explain the mess to the public, problem solved. right?

    That is another by-gone application that use to turn right from wrong, that Americans no longer have in their favour.

    You seriously have to wonder, is that guy in the outfit a peace officer or a thug? Most Americans have no clue how much trouble they’re in, do they?

  25. Wearegonersnow,

    The source of this story was local TV and anon nurse was kind enough to post some local print media coverage above.

  26. Wearegonersnow: “….listen, police department, your stupid embarrassement is NOT going to be mine too.”

    If there’s any justice left some court, at some level, should say just that. If they ever actual catch the people that did it and they are prosecuted. Let’s hope (in the event of an arrest) the DA has more sense than to actually take the case forward. These are cartoons, not actual videos or photos but yes, in all too many places taking photos or videos of the police is illegal and sure shouldn’t be.

  27. “Most Americans have no clue how much trouble they’re in, do they?”

    No. They don’t. It has been my experience that even some that do realize it don’t want to think about it.

  28. Nobody gets thrown out so OS is perfectly safe … if HenMan shows up then all bets are off … the bobcats hate to lose.

    good night all … too many late nights have dulled my beauty … must pack myself in ice and hope for the best

  29. Gene sez: “Yes. I have a vociferously precipitous, intrepidly extensive and nefariously lexicographical vocabulary.”


    You come across as a necromancer. Or did your amanuensis write that?

  30. Yep … OS can stay and play all evening:)

    A fun variation is a game using only Proper nouns or adjectives or adverbs etc. Sometimes we will award points for a non-word if it is particularly clever

  31. If you search YouTube you’ll find at least one animation that parodies the Ottawa police department, and it’s obviously by the same people. I sent this link to the defense attorney in this case:

  32. http://www.king5.com/news/Renton-Police-demote-two-officers-over-mocking-YouTube-video–127798678.html

    Renton Police demote two officers over mocking YouTube video

    by LINDA BYRON / KING 5 News

    August 15, 2011 at 5:50 PM

    RENTON, Wash. — A top police commander and sergeant are to blame for at least one of the YouTube cartoons mocking the Renton Police Department and regional jail.

    The video is one of nine recently posted on YouTube satirizing the Renton Police Department and the jail in an extremely unflattering way, at times coming across as racist and sexist.

    The cartoon depicts a jail employee as a clown who offers nonsensical reasons for refusing to book a suspect brought in by Renton Police. The jail clown tells the officer he can’t book the man because he’s too drunk, his backpack is too big and he’s too loud. The video also depicts jail employees as lazy.

    The clown says, “We spent the last two years shirking duties and calling in sick for no reason. I was told we’d all be promoted.”

    The Renton Police officer mockingly thanks the clown for teaching him the ways of SCORE, the regional jail in Des Moines known as the South Correctional Entity.

    According to the internal investigation, the offensive video was produced by Renton Police Sgt. Bill Judd, who showed it to a top commander, Deputy Chief Chuck Marsalisi. Judd told investigators the Deputy Chief thought it was funny and advised him on how to post it anonymously on YouTube.

    Both men have been demoted for conduct unbecoming of an officer. Marsalisi is now a sergeant, Judd is now a patrol officer.

    “There’s a process of investigation,” said Preeti Shridhar, Communications Director for the City of Renton, on the officers’ discipline. “We work closely with the human resources department. Based on that and based on their recommendations, the action was taken.”

    Renton Police Department says this internal investigation only addresses one video, not 8 others that were the focus of a cyberstalking investigation. Police say they still don’t know who produced those offensive videos and are continuing to look into the matter.

  33. anon nurse,

    Never, never, talk about it

    Wonder if the same investigation will uncover any truth behind the vids and demote those people? Shall we place a wager?

  34. As per usual, and like pigs everywhere, the Renton pigs can’t grasp that they only enforce the law. They are not above the law, nor do they get to decide what is the law.

    As well, criticism and dislike of pigs does not constitute a lack of respect for the law, especially when pigs are some of the biggest lawbreakers.

    If the pigs don’t like criticism and parody of the pigs’ incompetence and corruption, there’s a guaranteed way to silence the critics: Stop employing pigs who are corrupt and incompetent.

    Instead, the pigs are trying to find the animator’s name and address. Why? So the pigs can arrest, assault or murder him?


  35. “Instead, the pigs are trying to find the animator’s name and address. Why? So the pigs can arrest, assault or murder him?” -P Smith

    …or so they can harass and torment him… (I try to avoid the word “pigs” — it’s like pouring kerosene on a fire… and there are still some good folks in law enforcement, but… it’s pretty bad out there…)

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