The following is my email interview with Peoria police chief Steve Settingsgaard. State’s Attorney Jerry Brady also spoke with me for today’s VICE story, which is why you’re probably here. Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis did not, however, return an email seeking comment. If you need to catch up previous stories regarding this incident and the ensuing media insanity, my coverage, in reverse chronological order, can be found here, here, here, here and here.
Me: On March 17 you emailed Mayor Jim Ardis to inform him that Judge Kirk Schoenbein had approved a search warrant requiring Twitter to preserve evidence related to the possible pursuit of criminal charges against the person who created @peoriamayor. On April 17, you emailed the opinion editor of the Journal Star saying Mr. Ardis had not been “aware of the search warrant in advance.” Can you explain this discrepancy?
Settingsgaard: If you go back and read Bailey’s question about the Mayor’s awareness and then read my response, you will see that there is no discrepancy. You are talking about different warrants.
Me: Furthermore, can you say how regular or irregular it is to inform citizens who have made complaints to police that search warrants have been issued in relation to a an investigation?
Settingsgaard: It is not unheard of but not common either.
Me: From the materials provided to me, it seems that there was extensive communication between yourself, members of your department, Mr. Ardis and city employees. Is that extent of emails normal for what, at the time, you and your department believed was a misdemeanor crime?
Settingsgaard: Similar to the above question, it is not typical but not unheard of either.
Me: By the time your department filed for the first search warrant, the account in question had already been marked as a parody. Twitter, in response to inquiries from city staff, clearly stated that parody accounts are allowed as long as they are clearly marked as such. In light of this knowledge, why did the Cyber Crimes Unit continue to pursue this as a criminal matter?
Settingsgaard: Twitter policy doesn’t trump Illinois law and if you operate from the premise that the behavior was illegal, the fact that the account changed doesn’t mean the law becomes unbroken. If a car speeds past a police car running radar and is clocked at 20 mph over the limit, but slows down once it sees the police, the slowing down does not negate the fact that they were speeding and is not a defense to the speeding violation.
Me: A review of the city’s FOIA log over the past month shows that many private individuals and media organizations have made requests. While it is impossible to tell exactly what information was being sought through those requests, can you give me an idea of how many requests your department has handled since the search warrant was executed?
Settingsgaard: We have had at least 3 FOIA requests related to the Twitter case that I am aware of, there may be others.
Me: Along that same line, can you give me an idea of how many manhours were spent on pursuing this matter? And is that amount normal for a misdemeanor crime?
Settingsgaard: I do not know how many hours because they are not tracked by case.
Me: Lastly, what are your general thoughts on this situation? In public comments and op-eds over the past month, some have said this was an egregious waste of taxpayer resources and police manpower. How do you respond to those allegations?
Settingsgaard: People are entitled to their opinion as far as the use of resources. I don’t believe there were as many man hours spent on the case as some would believe. Oftentimes people equate the amount of media coverage with the amount of time spent by the police on the case when the two have little to no relationship.