Aaron Swartz Suicide: Petition to Fire Prosecutor Reaches 25,000 Signatures Needed For White House Response

The petition to fire Carmen Ortiz, the controversial district attorney in charge of Reddit co-owner and internet engineer Aaron Swartz’s prosecution for downloading millions of articles from an internet database, officially reached the 25,000 signatures necessary to trigger a formal White House response.

Swartz committed suicide on January 11 in New York City, following his federal indictment for illegally downloading over 4.8 million journals from the online scholarly archive JSTOR. The prosecutors have been the subject of harsh criticism for filing hefty charges of wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer system, and recklessly damaging a protected computer, carrying a maximum sentence of 35 years. Many believe that these charges, which PolicyMic pundit Amy Casil called “vindictive, opportunistic, or both,” were motivated more by his celebrity than any egregious violation of the law, and may have contributed to his suicide. 

The petition to fire D.A. Ortiz reads as following:

It is too late to do anything for Aaron Swartz, but the who used the powers granted to them by their office to hound him into a position where he was facing a ruinous trial, life in prison and the ignominy and shame of being a convicted felon; for an alleged crime that the supposed victims did not wish to prosecute.

A prosecutor who does not understand proportionality and who regularly uses the threat of unjust and overreaching charges to extort plea bargains from defendants regardless of their guilt is a danger to the life and liberty of anyone who might cross her path.

The Daily Mail found on Tuesday that another hacker, Jonathan James, committed suicide after being charged by U.S. Assistant Attorney Stephen Heymann for alleged participation in the TJX Hacker Case in 2008. James said he had nothing to do with the incident, but feared that Heymann’s office would attempt to pin it on him, according to Buzzfeed. James was a minor at the time of his indictment, but was put into confinement at Heymann’s insistence. In the Swartz case, Heymann reportedly was refusing to allow a plea deal on the 30 years sought by federal prosecutors.

Swartz never made the documents public, and JSTOR themselves refused to be party to civil litigation against him, instead opting to begin making up to 4.5 million articles free to read

Swartz’s death triggered a wave of activism from tech celebrities, legal experts, and online communities. The hacktivist collective Anonymous announced Monday their intention to guard Swartz’s funeral against protests by the Westboro Baptist Church, an infamous hate group which takes every opportunity to protest any funeral of a person they see in conflict with their anti-gay, extremist right-wing theological worldview. Anonymous was highly active in both defending Swartz and promoting the anti-Ortiz petition throughout the legal proceedings and after Swartz’s death.

“Twenty-four hours after the death of Aaron Swartz was announced to the world, a heartless cult announced their intention to picket his funeral. In response, Anonymous has launched Operation Angel,” members of the group said. However, they acknowledged it was probable that their actions were what made Swartz a target in the first place, saying “it is likely that our continuous condemnation and attacks against this cult is the very reason Aaron is being targeted by them. We would do anything to stop them from attending Aaron's services.”

D.A. Ortiz has refused to comment on the suicide. “We want to respect the privacy of the family and do not feel it is appropriate to comment on the case at this time,” said a statement issued by her office.

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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