Erin Gartner of the Associated Press is reporting that a former college student whose computer was confiscated by police after he poked fun at a professor by altering his photograph to look like KISS bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons filed a lawsuit Thursday (Jan. 8) claiming police violated his free speech.
Thomas Mink's satirical online newsletter, The Howling Pig, contains a photograph of UNC finance professor Junius Peake, altered to look like Gene Simmons, along with a caption describing "Mr. Junius Puke" as a former KISS roadie who made a fortune by riding "the tech bubble of the nineties like a $20 whore."
A disclaimer warns readers not to confuse Puke, the supposed editor-in-chief of the newsletter, with Peake, described as an "upstanding member of the community as well as an asset to the Monfort School of Business."
"I've never actually talked to the guy," said Mink, adding that Peake never contacted him or e-mailed the site about the photo or caption.
"He's sort of known for being an outspoken, very conservative guy. He speaks out on student fees, student vouchers — so he has a fairly high profile."
A search warrant was executed on Mink's home that he shares with his mother Dec. 12, when police took his computer. Detective Ken Warren allegedly told Mink to stop publishing the online newsletter and later said Mink could face charges under a state criminal libel law, according to the lawsuit.
The suit asks the court to force police to return Mink's computer. The suit also asks for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction, which would block the city attorney's office from filing criminal charges against Mink. It also asks that the Colorado Criminal Libel Statute be deemed unconstitutional.
"It's a clear case of a government entity blocking First Amendment rights. There just isn't much room for debate on this one," said attorney Marcy Glenn, who is working with the American Civil Liberties Union on the case. She said the state Supreme Court has deemed the criminal libel statute unconstitutional in the past."