Tweeters Were Criminally Charged For The Crime Of Trying To Identify A Police Officer... Who The Police Revealed In The Charging Docs

from the that's-DETECTIVE-'This-Bitch,'-mister dept

The Nutley, New Jersey Police Department fears for the safety of its officer. It fears so much it tried to bring criminal charges against people who retweeted a tweet asking Twitter users to identify an officer who was policing a protest. Georgana Sziszak is one of the five people charged for interacting with the tweet, as Adi Robertson reports for The Verge.

The Nutley Police Department filed its complaints in late July over a tweet posted during a June 26th protest. The now-deleted message included a photo of a masked on-duty police officer with a request that “If anyone knows who this bitch is throw his info under this tweet.” Because of the mask, the officer is not readily identifiable from the photograph, and there do not appear to be any replies revealing his identity.

The original poster and the retweeters are charged with cyber harassment, a fourth-degree felony punishable by up to 18 months in jail. Activist Georgana Sziszak, one of the retweeters, revealed the complaint in a GoFundMe campaign last week.

The original poster didn't find any takers for their request for the identity of the masked officer. The Nutley PD has, however, doxed its own officer by filing this criminal complaint. Here's the tweet -- since deleted -- asking for the officer's identity:

If you can't read/see the tweet, it says:

If anyone knows who this bitch is throw his info under this tweet

The Nutley PD knows who "this bitch" is and has provided all the info the original tweet was seeking:

The department charged Sziszak and others on behalf of Detective Peter Sandomenico, who the complaint identifies as the officer in the tweet. It alleges that the photo and accompanying caption threatened the officer “acting in the performance of his duties, causing Detective Sandomenico to fear that harm will come to himself, family, and property.”

Yes, it's decorated officer Peter Sandomenico -- an officer whose salary is 884% higher than the median salary in the town he serves. Sandomenico was once honored by the department for "going above and beyond" and was photographed receiving this really vague commendation. He was also photographed twice for NJ Cops Magazine, where he attended a ceremony honoring Nutley's "Police Officer of the Year." Sandomenico is a state delegate for his police union.

Like far too many officers around the nation, Peter "PJ" Sandomenico appears to have removed anything identifying him personally while working at the protest in Nutley. This sort of thing never plays well with the public, which often responds by crowdsourcing officer info -- not necessarily to harass officers but to let officers know their efforts to dodge accountability have been undone.

Of course, after this story started getting attention, the Essex County Prosecutor's office announced it was dropping the charges with a weak excuse:

The prosecutor’s office confirmed the five people who were charged and told the Asbury Park Press on Friday that “we concluded there was insufficient evidence to sustain our burden of proof.”

Even though the charges were dropped, this was still a blatant attack on the 1st Amendment rights of protesters -- many of whom may now be scared off from documenting law enforcement activities during these protests out of fear of facing a similar nuisance fight.

The First Amendment protects the right to photograph on-duty officers. It also protects the speech that accompanied the tweeted photo, which only asked for someone to identify the cop, not to encourage violence against the officer. The imagined parade of horrors springing from the identification of Detective Peter "PJ" Sandomenico belongs solely to the minds at the Nutley Police Department, which provided info that the five charged Twitter users failed to dig up. Great job, guys! Perhaps the PD will again be cited for going above and beyond by violating the Constitution to protect an unidentified officer the PD decided to identify on its own. Presumably when the PD does it, it results in less fear for Sandomenico's safety.

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Filed Under: 1st amendment, chilling effects, criminal charges, free speech, intimidation, new jersey, nutley, protests


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  • identicon
    David, 13 Aug 2020 @ 12:45pm

    So much about the crime of identifying the police officer

    At least the department had the decency to end the crime of not identifying the police officer. While some power-greedy autocrats would love to have a secret police unaccountable to anybody, it does not seem a good fit with the constitutional history of the United States.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 13 Aug 2020 @ 12:51pm

    If you won't do it the public will

    Here's a though: If you don't like the public trying to figure out exactly who a particular cop is maybe consider having some sort of identifying mark on the uniform.

    Maybe, oh I dunno, clearly visible names and/or clearly visible numbers tied to a particular officer, something like that? Because by removing any such marks they're sending a very clear message that people who theoretically serve the public and are being paid by the public plan on engaging in activity that the public would not approve of and are taking steps to avoid accountability, leaving it up to the public to tied names and faces to actions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Aug 2020 @ 12:53pm

    Streisand strikes again!

    Yaaaay! Now everybody knows who that bitch is!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Vidiot (profile), 13 Aug 2020 @ 1:34pm

    Helps, too, to know a little about the town of Nutley. It's been an upper-middle haven since the 19th century... tree lined streets... long ago, heavily German-American but almost exclusively Italian-American for 50 or 75 years. Planning on taking a northern NJ Sopranos tour? You'll wind up in Nutley; that's where character Christopher Moltisanti shot up the bakery staff when he couldn't get his sfogliatella quickly enough.

    For decades, one Italian-American family owned the local newspaper and occupied the mayor's office; the library board is run by decree by a 90+-year-old capo. You get the idea - the connectedness helps keep the town pure and unsullied (wink, wink), and the locals like it that way.

    Not surprising that the PD would take umbrage at someone making such an out-of-line request targeting goomba officer PJ. And the requester is lucky that the response was only a threatened indictment, and not a horse's head.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Aug 2020 @ 2:15pm

      Re:

      Don't worry the real reason for the lawsuit was to reveal the people who targetted the officer in the first place. Extrajudicial actions will take place against them over the next few weeks to teach them the error of their ways of questioning their proper place in society. When the drugs that were planted on them turn up in the follow-up investigation, no one will question why they ended up with so many injuries.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 13 Aug 2020 @ 2:31pm

      Re:

      Y'know, you could maybe convey the point that the place is mobbed-up without throwing a bunch of casual stereotypes about Italian-Americans in there.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Thad (profile), 13 Aug 2020 @ 2:33pm

    Reminds me of the time Arpaio had the owners of the New Times arrested for publishing his address (which was a matter of public record and easy to find online).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Aug 2020 @ 2:55am

      Re:

      It's one thing to be listed in public records, quite another for someone to call attention to where someone lives.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Aug 2020 @ 2:43pm

    Nutley

    This is nuckin' futs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 13 Aug 2020 @ 3:16pm

    It's time to start a nonprofit or three...

    ...that track human beings who are employed in the justice and state security sectors, and when they've done unconscionable things.

    Even if we don't act on them right now, we're going to want evidence when there are Nuremberg trials. It also might be worth it to talk to the few good apples that remain into taking up a career in horticulture.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    BernardoVerda (profile), 13 Aug 2020 @ 3:18pm

    self-contradictory charges

    So... the very manner in which the police department handled this, -- publicly and unambiguously identifying the (till then) unidentified officer -- concretely demonstrates that they themselves don't actually believe their own story?

    Somehow, I'm not surprised.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Aug 2020 @ 5:40pm

    Clearly a case of disrespecting a police officer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 14 Aug 2020 @ 12:33am

    HOW many levels of fail there?

    1) The Nutley PD being such a bunch of nutbags one of their publicly accountable law enforcement officials being identified is cause for hysterical panic.

    2) ...by such reaction confirming to the public that their perception of themselves is as a secret police...

    3) ...and said panic then has them filing charges where officer Sandomenico is then named anyway.

    "Police Academy" and the "Keystone Cops" just ran into Poes Law in a dark back alley. Will the Nutley PD for its next act put on a red nose, some floppy shoes, and start swinging around buckets and a ladder?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 14 Aug 2020 @ 7:57am

      Re: HOW many levels of fail there?

      Pretty sure the source of the issue is that they don't agree with the 'publicly accountable' part of point one, hence the removal of identifying marks on the uniforms.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Aug 2020 @ 4:14am

    I wonder if the Nutley, New Jersey Police Department makes Deputy Barney keep his one bullet in his pocket.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 14 Aug 2020 @ 9:48am

    Why do the police assume the worst? Maybe they were trying to identify the guy with grey hair and baseball cap...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Aug 2020 @ 5:16pm

    That LEO knows if the public was aware of all the evil shit he has done, they would come for him. That is where the fear comes from.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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