Real-Life 'Law and Order' Move: 'Innocence of Muslims' Filmmaker Arrested for Violating Probation

A timeline of the events leading up to his arrest and detention without bail

Nakoula being taken in for questioning by L.A. County sheriff's deputies on September 15 (Reuters)

One favorite suspense-building plot trick of police procedurals? Have a detective's investigation buckle, requiring him or her to take a different investigative approach in order to nab a suspected bad guy. Sam Waterston yells that the case won't stand up in court; Chris Noth broods over letting a menace to society slip through his hands. Finally, an alternate tack is reached, bringing the suspected criminal into court on what the DA usually calls a "lesser charge."

Basically every legal scholar and commentator to weigh in on the Innocence of Muslims debacle agrees that accused filmmaker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula committed no crime at all by creating, overdubbing, or posting the much-discussed film trailer. But many people also agree it's not that desirable to have him out in the world continuing his filmmaking career.

So what to do? Rather than try to trump up a case that won't hold up in court on grounds related to the content of the film, officials apparently started looking into Nakoula's legal record, and found he had violated probation on an earlier bank fraud conviction by posting the video and using a fake name. (How did he violate it? The grounds of his probation include stipulations that he not adopt an alias or use the Internet.)

Recommended Reading

Last night, law enforcement officials arrested him; he's currently being held without bail at the Metropolitan Detention center in L.A., awaiting trial. It's a legally sound maneuver that will serve the purpose of restricting Nakoula's activities, without infringing on his First Amendment rights. The lesson: Sometimes, the things you see on TV are kind of real. (Also, drawing a lot of negative attention to yourself can get you investigated.)

It's hard to know with an ongoing investigation, but police and prosecutors have probably been peering into Nakoula's background for a couple of weeks now. A timeline of what we do know:

July 2012: A trailer for a film called Innocence of Muslims begins circulating on the Internet.

September 9: Egyptian media play a clip of the film, which had appeared on the Internet dubbed into English about a week earlier.

September 11: Protests begin in Egypt. A man giving his name as "Sam Bacile" and claiming to be the Innocence of Muslims filmmaker comes forward to claim responsibility for the video. He says he is an "Israeli Jew."

September 12: The Atlantic's Jeff Goldberg reports, after talking to a consultant for the film, that "Sam Bacile" is probably not Jewish. The producer also suggests that "Bacile" is a pseudonym.

September 13: In the morning, the AP identifies the filmmaker as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. The New York Times says Nakoula is a Coptic Christian with a criminal record, several aliases, and a history of alignment with anti-Muslim groups in the U.S.

September 14: Reuters reports that Nakoula is being investigated for violating the terms of his probation.

September 15: L.A. County sheriff's officers bring Nakoula in for questioning by federal officials slightly after midnight. While he is escorted out of his house by deputies, officials call the questioning "a voluntary interview."

September 17: The AP reports that Nakoula's family has gone into hiding around 3:45 a.m. Sheriff's deputies reunite the family with Nakoula after questioning, and as a group they are said to be in an "undisclosed location."

September 19: An actress in the film files a civil suit against Nakoula, saying she didn't know the nature of the film when she appeared in it.

September 22: A Pakistani minister places a bounty on Nakoula's head.

September 27: Nakoula is arrested and held for eight counts of violating probation. At his bail hearing, Judge Suzanne Segal asks Nakoula for his real name. He first gives it as "Nakoula Basseley Nakoula," and then, upon being asked a second time, as "Mark Basseley Yousseff." Prosecutors successfully argue that he is a flight risk, and Judge Segal orders him held without bail.

Expected: A hearing will be held to determine Nakoula's identity, as will a revocation hearing to determine whether he did in fact violate the terms of his probation. Court documents say Nakoula has used at least 17 false names. The Los Angeles Times stated that he could face up to three years in prison if convicted on all counts, although probation officials have recommended 24 months. The same L.A. Times article also noted that he may face new charges of having lied to federal officials.