Last month, Phoenix police raided the home of Jeff Pataky, a blogger who runs Bad Phoenix Cops, a blog that, not surprisingly, has been highly critical of the Phoenix Police Department. According to The Arizona Republic, Pataky's home was raided by ten Phoenix police officers who handcuffed his girlfriend for three hours while they conducted the raid. "We have heard internally from our police sources that they purposefully did this to stop me," Pataky told the Republic. "They took my cable modem and wireless router. Anyone worth their salt knows nothing is stored in the cable modem."
The search warrant lists "petty theft" and "computer tampering with the intent to harass" as potential crimes. Pataky, who was away on a business trip when the raid occurred, says he has yet to see an affidavit that explains why they had probable cause to conduct the raid.
The deeply troubling search warrant provides little insight into what police believe Pataky has done. It does, however, mention repeatedly that police were to search for personal correspondence between Pataky and "Dave Barnes." According to The Arizona Republic, Barnes is a former Phoenix homicide detective who went public in 2007 with claims of mismanaged evidence at the city's crime lab. In May 2009, Barnes' home also was raided by police due to his alleged "involvement in what some officers perceived to be a connection to a blog critical of the police leaders," the Republic reported at the time.
I think I am starting to see a pattern here. Phoenix police don't like what Pataky has been saying about the department and they really don't like that a former detective has been blowing the whistle on alleged police misconduct. Rather than file a civil lawsuit alleging defamation, as most parties do when they feel they have been wrongly maligned, the Phoenix police simply get a search warrant and shut down their critics.
Don't we have laws against just such a thing? What about the First Amendment, you ask? Terry Heaton over at the PoMo Blog explains why everyone, especially journalists, should be ringing the alarm bells:
In justifying the raid, Phoenix Assistant Chief Andy Anderson called Pataky's site "an unaccredited grassroots Web site." Um, Chief Anderson, who "accredits" web sites? This is the most chilling part of the whole thing to me, because the police and the courts in Phoenix have taken it upon themselves to determine who qualifies as "the press." And here's the thing: anybody with an ounce of ink in their blood knows that Pataky deserves First Amendment protection, but they're unlikely to say it publicly, because "the (professional) press" thinks of itself as a special class of people and have railed for years against the likes of Pataky.
As more and more journalists transfer their work from institutions that wear the label "press" to "unaccredited grassroots web sites," this whole business of who is and isn't a journalist will be tested. Disgruntled elements in the culture now have a way for their side of the story to be published, and this will further the challenge to modernist authority, whether its the public or private sector. Fasten your seat belts, folks.
Carlos Miller, who runs the invaluable Photography is Not a Crime Blog, is reporting that Pataky recently filed a lawsuit over the raid, which netted three computers, routers, modems, hard drives, memory cards and everything necessary to continue blogging. Pataky told Miller that he has not let the raid stop him from blogging, however, "They thought they were going to scare us into a corner but they just made us stronger."
One of our readers, Theo Karantsalis, a journalist in Florida, interviewed Pataky earlier this week and submitted the following report:
Phoenix blogger's computer seized: ‘This is Nazi Germany'
A Phoenix-based blogger said that police seized his computer and property because he was "speaking out against cops."
"They took everything," said Jeff Pataky, 41, a Phoenix software consultant. "They even took my personal photos and iTunes music. Since when does a citizen's home get raided for something like this?"
According to the search warrant issued on Mar. 9 by Maricopa County Judge Gary E. Donahue, there was probable cause to support that Pataky allegedly committed the following public offenses:
- "computer tampering, a class 5 felony"
- "theft, controls property of another knowing or having reason to know that the property was stolen, a class 1 misdemeanor."
Items to be searched for and seized at Pataky's residence, "located in a gated private community," included "any and all electronic data processing and storage devices, computers," among other items, according to the warrant.
Pataky said that the warrant was issued in retaliation by the police for posts he made on his blog, badphoenixcops.blogspot.com.
"Their intent was to stop me," said Pataky, who said he had a right to blog under the First Amendment. "They even blocked my Web site from city computers because city employees were reading it."
Pataky said that he is knowledgeable about his city government, attends council meetings and is "very outspoken."
"I have 50 to 100 cops who provide me with information," said Pataky, who then posts the information on his blog.
"This is censorship," said Pataky. "This is Nazi Germany."
The Phoenix Police Department did not return calls seeking comment.
"The public needs to pay attention to this," said Pataky.
"If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone."
(For more on the case, see our legal threats database entry, Arizona v. Pataky.)