A St. Louis police officer, who called an activist’s boss and warned her boss about alleged “inciteful” tweets, is reportedly under investigation after the activist posted a video of her calling this officer to confront him.
Leigh Maibes, who has participated in protests since Mike Brown was killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9, obtained the phone number for Keith Novara from her boss. She called him on October 15 just after 7 pm.
Novara, an outreach officer in Maibes’ neighborhood, admitted that he had called the real estate broker, where she works as an independent contractor, to warn him that the phones might be “blowing up” with people upset by Maibes’ tweets.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, internal affairs in the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is now investigating the police officer’s call to her employer.
From the video, which Maibes posted:
Maibes: I just wanted to call and follow up with you yesterday about the calls and texts to my broker.
Novara: Yeah, that’s me. I did. I let them know.
Maibes: So, I’m still not clear why you let them know—As a police officer, why you would call my place of business and use a Twitter account that I use an alias under to hand over to my boss?
Novara: I was just letting the city businessmen know in the city that if their phones were blowing up that is what it was from because I saw that people were going to be calling and that was it.
Maibes: Where did you see that people were going to be calling my boss? Because I haven’t seen any of that.
Novara: Yeah, it was on one of the feeds.
Novara is apparently taking the aliases of activists, finding out their real names (which may be difficult or easy) and then making calls to businesses to warn them that they are tweeting things that are making people upset and so that is why they may get angry phone calls. If effective, this can be pretty defamatory.
The officer never says exactly where he saw that people were going to call her boss because of “inciteful” tweets or how anyone on Twitter knew where she worked. And, again, he is informing a person’s boss that she is the person sending messages with an account that is setup to give her some level of anonymity so she can speak her mind without having to worry her boss will pressure her to censor herself.
“You know, like to me this feels like intimidation because you are an officer that patrols my area and an officer I’ve also had contact with about trying to resolve some issues on my street,” Maibes adds. She wonders if this was being done for her benefit. Navara answers that he was just doing it to “let them [businesses] know that if their phones were going to be ringing off the hook that that was why.”
Generally, this appears to be standard work for a St. Louis police officer involved in “outreach”—spreading rumors like some mean high schooler who wants to get back at someone.
Maibes asks if these tweets were “inciteful” on her behalf. He answers that since she is involved with the neighborhood ownership model (NOM) her tweets are “contrary to what we do in the neighborhood with the citizens.”
The conversation continues:
Maibes: “My tweets are inciteful?”
Maibes: How are my tweets inciteful?
Novara: Ok, well, I’m done with this conversation.
Maibes: Well, I’m not because you called my job. So my question is I don’t understand how my tweets are inciteful and against the neighborhood ownership model?
Novara: Well, me calling your job is not in violation of any law.
Maibes: It’s not in violation of any law?
Maibes: And it doesn’t constitute police harassment and/or intimidation to stop my activism work?
Novara: No, not at all.
Maibes: It doesn’t? [Pause] And you believe that?
Novara: Yeah, it was not my intent at all.
Maibes: So your intent was just to let my broker know? Was that before or after the chief of police called you?
Finally, Novara informs Maibes that it is because she is tweeting her thoughts about police brutality or how St. Louis police are handling protesters that he is paying her special attention.
Novara: Well, I don’t know. I don’t understand what your point is.
Maibes: Well, I don’t understand what your point is because you can’t tell me what I, any of anything that I’ve put on Twitter is inciteful and how it goes against neighborhood ownership model. That doesn’t make any sense to me, Keith. And I think you know me. I’ve worked very, very tirelessly for historic preservation. Historic preservation and improving homes in the city.
Novara: You think that your tweets were appropriate and everything is fine then, as far as what you say against police?
Maibes: I don’t say anything against police. I have a problem with police brutality. Is that being against police?
Novara: You know that’s your opinion and you can have that opinion but… [trails off without finishing sentence]
Maibes: So, saying that I’m against police brutality and I don’t like the way that police handle female activists and abuse them and some of the things that were done to silence, track and intimidate activists, that’s inciteful and that’s not contributing to my community and it’s the antithesis of the community ownership model because black people and demonstrators don’t live in your community?
Novara: [nervous chuckle] I really don’t want to engage in this conversation anymore, okay, Leigh.
Maibes ends the conversation by stating that she feels intimidated and, if anything happens near her house or if she starts to get pulled over repeatedly, she will continue this conversation.
The video has over 8,000 views, as of 8 pm EST. Due to media interest in the officer, the St. Louis Police Officers Association (SLPOA) issued this statement:
“We’ve confirmed that a complaint was filed with Internal Affairs against our member, Keith Novara,” SLPOA Business Manager Jeff Roorda acknowledged. “The Association has hired an attorney that specializes in First Amendment rights to represent Officer Novara. It is confounding to us as an organization of law enforcement professionals that apologists for the so-called ‘peaceful protestors’ in Ferguson and the Shaw neighborhood defend throwing bricks, bottles and rocks at police officers as ‘freedom of speech or freedom of expression’. Then, those very same people feign righteous indignation when a police officer who is fed up with the corrosive, anti-police rhetoric that this particular agitator has made in a public forum on social media, exercises his freedom of speech and freedom of expression in a truly peaceful manner.” Roorda continued, “Today Officer Novara joined the ranks of law enforcement officers and police union officials who have received death threats, had threats made against their children or been subject to cyber-attacks. All of this for the mere act of setting the record straight on public statements made by people spreading irresponsible lies and calling for violence against the police. Police officers are not second-class citizens. They enjoy First Amendment rights and every other right that is enjoyed by every other citizens and we will aggressively defend those rights to our last breath.” [emphasis added]
Oh, you poor group of oppressed people. When will officers be able to engage in despicable behavior recorded on camera without fear of anger from the public, which sees police as never being held appropriately accountable for such misconduct? Start a movement. You can decide if you want to repress it or not with your tear gas, pepper spray, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, armored personnel carriers or batons.
Seriously, it is McCarthyist-style repression to call a person’s boss because you disapprove of what they are saying on Twitter about police.
In Oakland, California, a police officer followed an activist and provided his boss with information that showed when he called in sick he was actually at a demonstration against Homeland Security-funded “Urban Shield” paramilitary exercises. The officer had photographs of him wearing a black mask and holding an anarchist flag at the rally. He was fired.
Activists involved in “Cop Watch” groups frequently complain about police using intimidation to get them to silence themselves and back off.
There is no legitimate law enforcement purpose for what Novara did. Novara was not setting the record straight on “lies” or calls for violence against police. He could not come up with a single example of this during the phone call when Maibes confronted him.
His act was not in the spirit of the First Amendment. On the contrary, it sent a message to other activists, who live paycheck to paycheck, to watch out when they organize and speak out against St. Louis police.