What separates us from the Islamofascists, we're told, is that we support free expression and they don't. They get violently exercised by cartoons; we're above that.

Yeah, about that . . .

The Renton, Washington Police Department and Renton Chief Prosecutor Shawn Arthur aren't breaking windows or throwing firebombs or stoning anyone. At least not yet. However, they are using a kind of violence — the coercive power of the state — to retaliate against a cartoonist. Their methods may not involve overt force, but their motives are repugnant to American values of freedom of expression.

KIRO investigative reporter Chris Halsne broke the story. He learned that the Renton P.D. is butthurt over a series of YouTube animated cartoons poking fun at issues in their ranks — including, apparently, officers having "dating relationships" with suspects. The videos — apparently created on — have unidentified cops and city officials engaging in discussions lampooning departmental scandals.

In America, that's no harm, no foul, right? We have a First Amendment. You can make fun of people, even if it hurts their feelings. You can speak, forcefully and satirically, about the conduct of government business. If you make false statements about someone, you might be in for a libel suit, but you're not going to go to jail for cartoons in America, right?

Well, there's America, and there's Shawn Arthur's Renton.

Now, cops will want to do stupid, stupid, lawless things. Prosecutors are supposed to exercise some judgment and haul them back from the precipice of unconstitutional thuggery. But some prosecutors — because they're political hacks who owe their position to the police, because they're strictly fourth-rate lawyers, or because they're thugs themselves — fail to provide that check and balance. Renton Chief Prosecutor Shawn Arthur is such a lawyer. He sought and obtained a a search warrant directed at Google to find the identity of the author of the YouTube videos, using the pretext that the Washington state law against "cyberstalking." That ludicrously overbroad law provides as follows:

(1) A person is guilty of cyberstalking if he or she, with intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass any other person, and under circumstances not constituting telephone harassment, makes an electronic communication to such other person or a third party:

(a) Using any lewd, lascivious, indecent, or obscene words, images, or language, or suggesting the commission of any lewd or lascivious act;

(b) Anonymously or repeatedly whether or not conversation occurs; or

(c) Threatening to inflict injury on the person or property of the person called or any member of his or her family or household.

Shawn Arthur and his affiant, Renton Police Officer Ryan Rutledge, asserts that the cartoonist, by his cartoons, has violated this section by using lewd and indecent words with intent to embarrass officers of the Renton Police Department:

It is my belief that the targets made in these videos target specific members of the City of Renton and Renton Police Department with the intent to embarrass and emotionally torment the victims by use of electronic communications to such persons or to a third party.

Perhaps the City of Renton and the Renton Police Department is made up of weepy weaklings who are easily hurt and tormented. If so, perhaps they should move to Canada. I understand they're quite solicitous of hurt feelings there.

But wait, you say. Cops will be cops, and hack lawyers will hack lawyers, but what about the judiciary? Surely no judge will sign a search warrant based on a theory that so patently violates the First Amendment?

Isn't it pretty to think so. But meet Kings County Judge James D. Cayce, who rubberstamped a search warrant seeking to unveil a cartoonist on the theory that be committed "cyberstalking" by posting cartoons making fun of police officers and city officials. That, in my experience, is how state judges act. They are no bulwark at all.

I'll watch this case from here. Will Google fight evil and challenge this search warrant? If not, will Shawn Arthur attempt to bring charges against the cartoonist? Does he realize that though he has absolute immunity for lawless prosecutions, he does not have absolute immunity for seeking a search warrant based on protected expression? Time will tell.

For now, thanks to the Streisand Effect, Shawn Arthur and Ryan Rutledge have assured that many thousands more viewers will enjoy the cartoons about their police department than would have without their censorious crusade.

It occurs to me that, in this post, I have, with the intent to embarrass censorious and thuggish public officials, used obscene language to make electronic communications to them or to third parties. Under their ludicrously unconstitutional interpretation of Washington's silly statute, I am guilty of a crime.

Come get me, fuckers.

Hat tip to Balko.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. McNugget says

    I actually live very close to Renton, and ,amusingly enough, I know Ryan Rutledge- or knew him about 10 years ago before he became a police officer. We worked together at a crappy job. I can assure you all that back then he was a gigantic douche of galactus proportions. And his ego was even bigger. So I guess he hasn't changed much.

  2. nrasmuss13 says

    As irritating and outrageous as I frequently find them, I would probably rue a world entirely lacking in the sort of small-intellect, no-account d-bags exemplified by Officer Rutledge, District Attorney Arthur. Who then to amuse me? Far sadder that Judge Cayce was apparently unable or unwilling to properly review the demands of such "Authoritah!" wielding jerk-offs.

  3. ArthurKC says

    Actually, prosecutors do not have absolute immunity for whatever they do. The Supreme Court has used a functionality test. If the prosecutor is acting as an investigator, as an arm of law enforcement, he does not have full immunity, only qualified immunity. If he is acting in the function of prosecuting someone, filing charges, presenting evidence, he has full immunity.

    The gray line between the two was before the Supreme Court in 2009, involving Iowa prosecutors who "investigated" a murder and then prosecuted two African-Americans from Omaha and they served something like twenty years before they were exonerated. The two guys won in the lower courts, and the Supreme Court took the case to review the prosecutors' argument that there was no constitutional right not to be framed for murder. Just before the case was argued, the prosecutors' insurance companies settled for well into eight figures, it was reported.

  4. says

    Ken – I really, really like you. Possibly even love. Your blog rocks the house.

    Hopefully I didn't make you uncomfortable in saying those things, because I also live in Washington (although on the dry side of the state, thank God – Renton is just south of Seattle, where you tell the seasons have changed by whether the rain falling is warm or cold) and thus, i could also be held to stand before a judge for my cyber-stalking of you. Although it isn't stalking, because my love for you is pure – not bad like some stalker-love. You can tell, can't you? Can't you feel how pure my love is? I will make you feel it, ken. I will make you feel my love…

    Okay, i just creeped myself out now. Sorry about that.

  5. R. Raymond says

    If only Jonathon Swift were still alive, he could give them "A Modest Proposal" as to where they could put this. Another example of poorly written laws used well out of the spirit and only to salve fragile egos of public employees who "run to the violence" but ignore that sometimes they are the only violence at the scene. In this case to the Constitution and the American civic religion.

    Satire and parody of the Government and its representatives is the hallmark of a free society, but, evidently, only in Civics classes.

  6. Seamus Ruah says

    No surprise, Renton is kind of a shithole. Although they do at least have a Frys.

  7. R. Raymond says

    That explains it. PFS (police frustration syndrome caused by no Walmart, thus no septuagenarian greeters to assault, thus frustration). Just in case they're listening at the RPD, it was satire guys. Really, it was. Trust me.

  8. Ignatius says

    I am now embarrassed to live in Washington.

    Love the blog – nothing clever to say, but FWIW, it's King County (no "s").

  9. RoboSamurai says

    I , (redact), believe that judge James Cayce has flagrantly and knowingly misconstrued the spirit of law with reference to RCW 9.61.260. The judge has signed off on a search warrant to expose the identity of a unknown person or persons who created numerous parody videos lambasting an unnamed Police Department. The videos are believed to be about the Renton Police Department yet provide little more than allusion to said department.

    The search warrant was filed as warrant #11-1172, filed on July 28th, 2011 at 14:27 with the King County Superior Court. My assertion is that this warrant was filed not to expose any possible acts of cyberbullying but rather to expose a possible departmental employee to censure and departmental discipline. The spirit of the law is being egregiously twisted in this situation and I believe the matter deserves due oversight.

    Thank you.

    — I sent it to the Washington Commision on Judicial Conduct :)

    PS. Love the blog.

    PPS. I know I confused the term cyberstalking with cyberbullying.

  10. marco73 says

    This is surely the Streisand effect in spades. I am in Florida. How many people in Washington had even heard of this case, let alone looked at the cartoons?
    One of our guys put one of the cartoons up on the big screen at work, and the room just roared with laughter.
    Please, please Shawn, throw Mr Fiddlesticks into the briar patch.
    Do you really want to stand up in open court, and declare that a cartoon parody of a female detective having an affair with a suspect is a "cybercrime?"

  11. delurking says

    Ken et al. who follow these sorts of things:
    Do you have an educated guess about how common this is. In other words, in this particular case it mostly backfired on the city and police department, making them look bad to a small fraction of the population who is interested in such things. But, what fraction of the time is such conduct by public officials caught and publicized? 50%, 10%, 1%, 0.1%? I assume consequences beyond bad publicity are very rare.

  12. says

    Is it too late to just carpet bomb youtube with xtranormal videos about Renton, so that Renton can't figure out just who to harass?

  13. Karl says

    If truly the Department and Officers are not named why would you want to stand up in court and declare that you are the ones being parodied?

  14. Karl says

    If you are not specifically named in the cartoon, why would one want to declare in court that you are the one being parodied? Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt

  15. Trent says

    Ironically if anyone has actually caused embarrassment to the people involved it's idiot officer Rutledge who has supplied the actual names behind the parodies in an FOI'able document. Now people all over the world know the names behind the allegations investigated – maybe now they can come after Rutledge for specifically linking this embarrassing information to them!

    What I get from reading the affadavit is that they are really investigating is someone leaking details of internal investigations that they are publicising as parody videos. Rutledge is quite improperly using investigative powers for a cyber stalking offence to get a warrant for something that he has no legal power to demand if he honestly presented the facts. If it's not actually lying in a sworn document it's a quite dishonest misrepresentation that the judge was obviously not diligent enough to spot.

    Oh yes, I should add that I am a police officer with twelve years service, half of them as a plain clothes investigator so I have some idea of what I am talking about.

  16. mojo says

    Well, Kings county IS just about the poorest of the poor in the California county sweepstakes. They probably couldn't afford a better judge.

  17. UhOh says

    If the Renton Officials had not made a big deal, an obvious admission of guilt, no one would care since the dept was not identified. Personally, I live in renton and am afraid of the para-military police and their embeddedness with the prosecutors office.

  18. Rliyen says

    Well, the Judge who issued the order has backtracked and issued a stay on the original warrant.

    Looks like he read it this time…