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Illinois mayor in Twitter raid flap says his 'freedom of speech' was at stake

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FILE: May 7, 2013: Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis at a City Council meeting in Peoria, Ill. (AP)

The Illinois mayor whose complaints led to a police raid to find out who was behind a Twitter account set up in his name is defending his actions, saying he felt his identity was stolen and that his "freedom of speech" was taken away. 

Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis addressed the issue Tuesday night at a City Council meeting where he faced criticism from some council members and residents who felt he had abused his powers and violated citizens' rights to free speech. 

As part of an investigation into who was behind the fake account, police officers raided a home last week, seizing computers and cell phones, and hauling its residents in for questioning. No one was charged over the Twitter account, which had already been shut down. But one person was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana. 

The investigation began after Ardis filed a criminal complaint over the Twitter account, which authorities said included posts about drugs and sex. 

"It went way over the line," Ardis said of the posts. "For that reason, my immediate reaction was a deeply personal one on behalf of my family and myself. As a person, I felt a victim of sexual doggerel and filth. It was filth. It was absolute filth." 

The mayor told the (Peoria) Journal Star before Tuesday's meeting that he didn’t orchestrate the police investigation and that he maintains the right to protect his identity.

"Are there no boundaries on what you can say, when you can say it, who you can say it to?" Ardis said. "You can’t say (those tweets) on behalf of me. That’s my problem. This guy took away my freedom of speech."  

He also called out the media for attempting to "spin" the story. 

“It’s your responsibility to put actual information out there and cover both sides," he told the newspaper. "Not to opine. And that didn’t happen. Clearly, that didn’t happen."

The Twitter account was set up in late February or early March under the handle @Peoriamayor. It included a photo of Ardis, his city email address and a bio saying he enjoyed serving the city. Only later did it explicitly state it was a parody account, something Twitter requires under its terms of service. After inquiries from police, Twitter suspended the account. 

The only person arrested was Jacob Elliott, 36, who was charged with drug possession.

Peoria County State's Attorney Jerry Brady told the Journal Star on Wednesday that according to the relevant subsection of the Illinois law criminalizing impersonation of a public official, the offense must be carried out in person. He said it makes no mention of use of the Internet or other electronic media.  

As a result, the county's top prosecutor says he will not bring charges.

His grandmother, Caroline Elliott, spoke on his behalf at Tuesday's council meeting, accusing the mayor, whom she said was a longtime friend of hers, of using his "employees as weapons to get even with the citizens of this city." 

She said her grandson's home was "literally torn to shreds, turned upside down."

"Isn't this ridiculous?" she said. "Didn't you overuse your power? Didn't you take away the rights of the citizens of this city?" 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Click here for more from the (Peoria) Journal Star.

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