An anonymous blogger has been criticizing the police, the sheriff, politicians, and businesspeople in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, and cops are having none of it. On Tuesday, sheriff’s deputies executed a search warrant on a man they suspect may have created the blog.
As WWL-TV (New Orleans) reports, the blog Exposedat has been attempting to link local officials in the parish, including Sheriff Jerry Larpenter, to shady business dealings. One recent post, entitled “Black Man and a Noose,” discussed a civil rights lawsuit filed against a company owned by the parish president, Gordon Dove.
— HoumaToday (@HoumaToday) June 27, 2016
Another post, entitled “Biz Stinks,” shows a picture of the sheriff apparently partying it up with a local businessman who the sheriff had claimed he doesn’t do business with.
The supposed criminal acts allegedly exposed by the blog aren’t particularly egregious — a shady contract here, someone caught in a lie there. Nevertheless, parish insurance agent Tony Alford believes that the blog’s contents rose to the level of criminal defamation. A parish judge agreed with him and authorized three search warrants, one allowing sheriff’s deputies to search the home of the man suspected to be behind the blog.
That man is Houma Police Officer Wayne Anderson.
— HoumaToday (@HoumaToday) June 21, 2015
Sheriff’s deputies turned up at Anderson’s home on Tuesday and seized two laptop computers — one of which Anderson claims belonged to his children — as well as five cell phones.
Anderson, who has worked as a Terrebonne Parish sheriff’s deputy as well as a police officer in New Orleans, denies being behind the blog. He is currently on paid administrative leave from the Houma P.D., under allegations of conduct unbecoming a police officer.
Whoever is behind the blog, be it Anderson or someone else, they may be protected by the Constitution. The First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech within certain limits. One of those limits is defamation; that is, the First Amendment doesn’t protect your right to defame another person. According to Loyola University Law Professor Dane Ciolino, proving criminal defamation in court is no mean feat, especially when it comes to public figures.
“When we’re talking about speech directed at matters of public interest questioning the activities of a public official, that is constitutionally protected speech of the highest order, and prosecutions for that sort of public comment are extraordinary.”
Similarly, attorney Mary Ellen Roy says that Louisiana’s laws against defamation, when they’re used against people who have criticized public officials, have been found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Nevertheless, Sheriff Larpenter believes that his deputies were in the right to try to find out who is behind the blog.
“If you’re gonna lie about me and make it under a fictitious name, I’m gonna come after you.”
This is not the first time the police have been called to deal with someone criticizing public officials on the internet.
In a 2014 case out of Peoria, Illinois, then-mayor Jim Ardis took exception to an anonymous local prankster’s fake Twitter account — @peoriamayor — that poked fun at the real mayor. The prankster, Jon Daniel, was taken into custody after police raided his home, claiming he had violated a law against impersonating a public official, according to a Chicago Tribune report from the time. All charges against Daniel were later dropped, and Ardis and the Peoria police became the subject of intense mockery following the incident. Daniel was later awarded $125,000 in a settlement against the mayor and the police.
Do you believe that police should go after people who publicly criticize them on the internet?
[Image via Shutterstock/Paul Matthew Photography]