A Florida man has been arrested for “threatening to damage the reputation of … the Miami Beach Police Department brand”.
According to The Miami New Times, police officers arrested 48-year-old Ernesto Orsetti for running a parody Twitter account impersonating a Miami Beach Police Department spokesperson. Local law makes it illegal to “impersonate a cop” – though a Court will need to determine whether impersonating a cop online is within the meaning of that law.
Police Chief Dan Oates thinks so. He called Orsetti’s behaviour “outrageous” and said he would be “held accountable”.
Parodying officials online hasn’t been successfully prosecuted in other jurisdictions. Last year, a Cleveland man was arrested for posting “derogatory and inflammatory” information under a fake Facebook account called “The City of Parma Police Department”. Local police claimed to have been inundated with calls about the fictitious laws posted on the page. However, a jury unanimously acquitted the man a few months later, having reviewed evidence which included the fake page’s fewer than 100 followers.
In 2014, an Illinois man was arrested for creating a satirical account mocking that city’s mayor. However, his successful defence, based around the First Amendment right to satirise government officials, yielded him damages of $US125K.
With regard to the current case: Orsetti’s defence may be aided by the fact that the police PR officer he impersonated, Ernesto Rodriguez, had previously joked about the account online.