Friday, April 06, 2012

Jailed Over Online Blog Post

By T.J. Aulds

(TEXAS) The operator of a popular blog that keeps up with the happenings in Clear Lake Shores was arrested and charged because of a post he made on the site in February.

Allan Batchelor, owner of the Island Drumz blog, said his posting of the email address of the wife of a city council candidate is what got him in trouble.

Interim police Chief Kenneth Cook said Batchelor was charged with online impersonation, a Class A misdemeanor. Batchelor was arrested at his home Wednesday and posted a $2,500 bond.

Online impersonation is the state’s definition of online harassment.

Section 33.07 of the state penal code
defines the infraction as, “A person commits an offense if the person, without obtaining the other person’s consent and with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten any person, uses the name or persona of another person ... with the intent to harm or defraud any person.”

The Texas Legislature revised the law last session.

In Batchelor’s case, he’s accused of posting the email address of Barbara Nichols, wife of city council candidate John Nichols, and inviting people to send spam and computer viruses to the email.

“Harm was intended at that point,” Cook said.

Batchelor made the posting on his blog Feb. 21. Nichols filed a complaint March 16.

Cook, noting a tense political atmosphere in the city, said his office took the case to the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office, which agreed to press charges. The Clear Lake Shores City Council has been locked in disagreement mostly about the performance of City Administrator Paul Shelly, who, until recently, also was police chief.

Batchelor said he made the post, which has since been edited to delete Nichols’ email address, because he was upset she had used an email distribution list of his to send out emails to area residents and businesses.

Nichols, who confirmed she got the distribution list from Batchelor, said the email contained the council agenda packet and she sent it to make sure the public was aware of an approaching council meeting.

She also said she was unaware Batchelor had posted his spam comments and her email to his blog. That was until the spam started showing up in her inbox.

Spam is unsolicited email, usually promoting a commercial product or service.

“I got spammed,” she said. “I opened my email and had all this spam.”

Nichols also said she found out she was under attack by posters on the Island Drumz blog page.

“I am uncomfortable with being attacked,” she said. “It got to the point that disagreements are not civil anymore. They come with threats, and I am fearful for what could happen to me.”

Nichols said she suspects she became an online target because she questions how the city was handling federal government contracts for disaster relief funds.

“I was arguing for more transparency,” she said. “Then I was attacked. I feel like this hate mongering is parallel to bullying that we tell our kids not to do. That’s what it is, a lot of bullying.”

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