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Justices reject appeal from Parma man arrested for spoofing police

Supreme Court
Posted at 1:51 PM, Feb 21, 2023

The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal, backed by the satirical site The Onion, from a Northeast Ohio man who was arrested and prosecuted for making fun of police on social media.

The justices on Tuesday left in place a lower court ruling against Anthony Novak, who was arrested after he spoofed the Parma Police Department in Facebook posts in 2016.

“I thought it was funny,” Novak told News 5 Tuesday.

The first in a series of satirical posts was a new "law" prohibiting Parma residents from helping the homeless. Another pretended to be searching for new recruits with the promise of a job if an applicant passed a 15 question multiple choice test and a hearing exam. Others advertised a food drive to benefit teen abortions, a pedophile reform fair and a new 12 to 9 p.m. curfew for all families in the city.

Some of the posts were shared more than 1,000 times and Novak assumed no one would would take his comedy seriously.

"It became funnier, even though the anxiety kind of kicked in eventually because it started to blow up," he said. "I actually didn't want to delete it, but I did it out of fear."

Even after deleting the posts, Novak was arrested by Parma Police and charged with disrupting public services. He spent several days in jail.

“I was trying to wait for that moment where they showed me something and I go, ‘Oh, ok I see what I did wrong.’ But it never came,” he said.

After his acquittal on criminal charges, Novak sued the police for violating his constitutional rights. The case climbed its way to the doorstep of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“You now have the bigger potential, where if you’re making a joke and a cop is mad at you, you could go to jail. I could’ve gone to prison,” he said.

In October, The Onion filed an amicus brief in defense of parody. Its lawyers wrote that the First Amendment protects people from prosecution when they make fun of others.

"The Onion’s writers also have a self-serving interest in preventing political authorities from imprisoning humorists,” the site's lawyers wrote in a brief filed in October. “This brief is submitted in the interest of at least mitigating their future punishment.”

RELATED: Preeminent parody site 'The Onion' pushes Supreme Court to hear Parma man's free speech case

Tuesday, the SCOTUS justices turned down Novak's final appeal. The move holds up a federal appeals court ruling that the officers have “qualified immunity.”

Case Western Reserve University Law Professor Jonathan Entin explained the controversial legal principle protects government officials from lawsuits.

"The rationale is that the government officials have to make a lot of discretionary decisions, often under some time pressure," Entin said. "And so we should not want those officials to be looking over their shoulders, worrying that if they make a wrong call, that somehow they're going to land in court."

Novak's attorney told News 5 he was disappointed the Supreme Court rejected the case and said it sends a message.

“In refusing to take the case, the court has just kicked the can down the road, which means that many more people like Anthony Novak will have their rights violated before the courts finally say enough, which is inevitable because these are obvious constitutional violations,” said Patrick Jaicomo, a senior attorney for the Institute of Justice.

Novak also said he was disappointed to not see the lawsuit advance, but was glad he stood his ground.

"Fight for your cause. Don't just let them get away with everything. Don't take a plea," Novak said.

When asked if, given the opportunity, he would warn his past self against making the parody account, Novak told News 5 he wouldn't change his actions.

"I was allowed to, so I would have anyways,” he said.

Parody site The Onion pushes Supreme Court to hear Parma man's free speech case