Twitter has suspended the social media account of an anti-police website for violating its rules against inciting violence after a union for Los Angeles police sued the owner of the website that offers a “bounty” for the killing of police officers.
The Twitter account @killercop1984 was suspended after the Los Angeles Police Protective League last week sued the owner of the “killer cop” website, accusing him of publishing their photos on his website and putting out a “bounty” on them.
In a tweet mentioned in the lawsuit, the site’s owner, Steven Sutcliffe, who posts under the handle @killercop1984, allegedly wrote, “Remember, #Rewards are double all year for #detectives and #female cops.” The tweet included an image of a monetary reward for killing an LAPD officer, the lawsuit says.
Sutcliffe has repeatedly defended his right to criticize the LAPD. “They are trying to silence my free speech. The truth cannot be retaliatory. It is 1st Amendment protected speech,” he told The Times last week.
“We are appreciative of Twitter acting swiftly to take down this dangerous website that called for the murder of Los Angeles police officers,” Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League that represents LAPD officers, said in a statement. “This was not about freedom of speech or public discourse, this was about protecting officers and their families and for that we are grateful that this site is suspended.”
The lawsuit is the first legal action stemming from the LAPD’s release of the names and photos of almost every sworn officer — more than 9,300 officers, including some who work undercover — as part of a public records request. The department did not intend to release the information about undercover police. A police watchdog group posted the images online earlier this month.
Mayor Karen Bass in a tweet over the weekend called the release “an unacceptable breach that put lives of our officers and their families at risk” and said she expects a “full accounting” of how it happened.
The lawsuit, filed Friday on behalf of Officers Adam Gross, Adrian Rodriguez and Douglas Panameno, asks that the photos and other identifying information be taken down from the killercop.com site.
According to the suit, a later tweet on the account allegedly included a link to a database of officer photos, along with the caption, “Clean head-shots on these #LAPD officers. A to Z.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Sutcliffe claim that the alleged threats, combined with their photos being circulated online, have caused them emotional distress.
In an interview Friday, Sutcliffe called the lawsuit “malicious.”
“It’s retaliatory. It is vindictive and frivolous,” he said. “Their motion is filled with lies.”
Sutcliffe has run into legal trouble before for online threats. In 2003, he was convicted in federal court of felony charges of using a website he had created to threaten executives at Global Crossing Ltd., a fiber-optic network company in Beverly Hills from which he was twice fired.
The photo database of officers was turned over by LAPD officials in response to a public records request by a journalist with the nonprofit newsroom Knock LA, then posted online by Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, a group that wants to abolish traditional law enforcement but in the interim has pushed for radical transparency.
The “Watch the Watchers” database includes each officer’s name, ethnicity, rank, date of hire, division/bureau and badge number, as well as a photo of the officer.
After the site’s launch, department leaders revealed that they had inadvertently released photos of officers working undercover and began an internal investigation to determine how the mistake occurred. Sources have said that the undercover officers whose identities were compromised in the release may number in the dozens, if not hundreds.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore said in an interview Friday that he supports the league’s efforts to have the photos taken down from Sutcliffe’s website. The LAPD is investigating whether the “solicitation for violence against officers” was criminal in nature, he said.
“The posts, the nature of the posts, they’re not just intimidation. They’re threatening, and they may constitute a crime,” he said. The chief said he has taken steps to address the safety concerns of those whose photos were released.
“We erred in the sense that there’s photographs that are in there that should not have been in there,” Moore said. “Now, but that ship has sailed. All those photographs are out here. What I find concerning is that as I feared … actors or individuals who are now taking this information and attempting to intimidate or scare and frighten.”
The lawsuit followed on the heels of the union filing a formal complaint over the handling of the photo data. The complaint was filed against Moore and Lizabeth Rhodes, director of the LAPD’s Office of Constitutional Policing.
Moore has asked the inspector general to take over the probe into the release of the data to avoid a conflict of interest.
Multiple LAPD sources not authorized to discuss the photo scandal said Rhodes, who oversaw the photo disclosure, should have ensured that any officer working in an undercover capacity was excluded from the information release.
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