Judge Tosses Charges Against Journalist Who Published Docs Leaked To Her By A Police Officer

from the PD-promises-to-pursue-one-of-its-own-with-same-vigor,-said-zero-officials dept

A police department's retaliatory arrest of a citizen journalist has dead-ended with a courtroom loss. Priscilla Villarreal -- better known as "Lagordiloca" to her thousands of Facebook fans -- was arrested after she published information given to her by police officer Barbara Goodman. The info included the name of Border Patrol agent who had committed suicide -- info never officially released by the Border Patrol.

While the proper target for Texas prosecutors would have been the officer leaking sensitive info, they decided to pursue Villarreal instead, issuing an arrest warrant for "misuse of official information." Publishing leaks has never really troubled the courts before, usually falling well within the confines of the First Amendment. But prosecutors argued the "misuse" occurred when Villarreal "profited" from it by "gaining popularity" with her exclusive leak.

"Lagordiloca" operated outside the mainstream, publishing and streaming interactions with officers live to her Facebook page. It's apparent many officers didn't care for her reporting, and this misuse of a "misuse" law seemed like a quick and dirty way to shut her up. It didn't work. As Jason Buch reports for the San Antonio Express-News, a judge has tossed the charges against Villareal, finding them unconstitutional.

A judge in Laredo on Wednesday threw out the charges against the social media personality known as La Gordiloca.

State District Judge Monica Z. Notzon ruled that part of the law police used to arrest Priscilla Villarreal is unconstitutionally vague.

The judge didn't go so far as to find the publication of leaked info protected under the First Amendment, however. This means prosecutors can still go after journalists for publishing "sensitive" info. But it probably wouldn't be prudent to do so. The law itself has been ruled unconstitutional, meaning it will need a rewrite before it can be pressed into service to silence critics of the government. No injunction has been issued, which means it's still technically legal to arrest journalists for leaks, even if a dismissal is all but guaranteed. This narrow ruling doesn't exactly discourage retaliatory arrests.

The District Attorney is choosing not to appeal this decision, but still believes his office was justified in approving the arrest warrant for the Laredo PD.

“We believe that the law was there, was on our side. We applied the law that was in the books,” Alaniz said. “The court determined it was vague and unconstitutional, and we’re making the decision not to appeal.

This is the DA granting the arresting officers the good faith exception -- based on his own terrible interpretation of the law -- presumably in hopes the judge presiding over the inevitable civil rights lawsuit will feel the same way. The DA has nothing to worry about. His immunity is pretty much unpierceable, no matter how much he twists state law to aid officers in retaliatory harassment of local journalists.

And there's always a chance the state's Attorney General may issue an appeal of its own. AG Ken Paxton recently declared Texas police officers are entitled to all available footage of use of force incidents before being questioned by investigators, so he may feel inclined to attempt to erect another buffer between officers and public accountability with an appeal.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2018 @ 4:15pm

    Hard to tell who is the lesser of 2 evils. Having worked around both the press and LE I don't have high opinions of either.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Agammamon, 4 Apr 2018 @ 6:33pm

      Re:

      The press don't lock you in cages or shoot yer butt when they don't like you.

      Not that they wouldn't if they could - but they can't.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2018 @ 10:59am

        Re: Re:

        No but the press can and does regularly ruin reputations whether it's warranted or not. This is why being tried in the press is a Thing.

        Try to find a job when everyone just "knows" you did it regardless of any evidence or actual conviction thanks to media coverage and talking heads saying, without ever coming out and saying it, you're guilty.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2018 @ 4:17pm

    Still no charges of criminal conspiricy for cops

    NOT a society of law a society of violence against the less powerful, a society of sociopaths

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 4 Apr 2018 @ 5:18pm

    Double Good Speak

    The police are in fact also citizens. I see no reasonable (problematic word there) reason why they should get deferential treatment. They do a job. The job has rules. They should follow not only those rules, but the law. That their job entails the enforcement of law, they should also know the law.

    All this remonstrating (from their unions, the prosecutors, and the courts) about how they should be protected from doing their jobs...properly...sure seems like they are being set up to be enforcers, rather than law enforcers.

    Enforcers have some tendency to enforce what they feel like enforcing, rather than what the rest of us expect them to enforce, that is, when we hired them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2018 @ 5:42pm

    "unpierceable" prosecutorial immunity

    Tim's assertion that "the DA has nothing to worry about" because prosecutorial immunity is "pretty much unpierceable" may have forgotten about North Carolina district attorney Mike Nifong, who was disbarred and jailed for his malevolent prosecution of the Duke lacrosse team rape case.

    While an extremely rare resolution to the extremely common problem of prosecutorial misconduct, it demonstrated that DAs, like cops, are not necessarily 100% immune from the law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 4 Apr 2018 @ 7:04pm

      Re: "unpierceable" prosecutorial immunity

      Yeah, only 99.99999% immune.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2018 @ 7:51pm

        Re: Re: "unpierceable" prosecutorial immunity

        Brought to you by the same nutjobs who claimed that "infinity minus a day" was still technically finite...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          JoeCool (profile), 5 Apr 2018 @ 5:11am

          Re: Re: Re: "unpierceable" prosecutorial immunity

          God, yes! If there's ONE THING, and only one, that could be changed about copyright today, it's the term length. Anything more than a single generation is robbing the public. Call it 30 years. That's more than enough time to make money.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2018 @ 11:02am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: "unpierceable" prosecutorial immunity

            Still too long unless you add in 30 (I'd prefer 25) or death of author, whichever comes first.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2018 @ 5:46pm

    I wonder if they would have done the same thing if the information had been leaked to (and broadcast by) one of the major networks?

    Probably not...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2018 @ 5:53pm

    Figure of authority not allowed to punish a lowly media representative? out_of_the_blue is not going to like this...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    dadtaxi, 5 Apr 2018 @ 12:37am

    "But prosecutors argued the "misuse" occurred when Villarreal "profited" from it by "gaining popularity" with her exclusive leak."

    Am I missing something here? Isn't that the goal and actions of near enough all media companies anywhere?

    1. Have exclusive stories
    2. Gain popularity
    3. Profit

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2018 @ 2:53am

    London Times: Police are trained to hide vital evidence

    April 3 2018 - "The scale of the failure by police and prosecutors to disclose vital evidence in criminal cases is exposed today in documents showing that such behaviour is routine and deliberate. A dossier seen by The Times reveals a commonly held view that the defence is not entitled to see all the evidence. It discloses the tactics used to stop it being handed over, with officers in at least one force apparently trained in how to avoid making available material that might undermine their case."

    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/police-are-trained-to-hide-vital-evidence-cnfdbm6jz?shareTo ken=795c8f48bfb868d3fb3c9b205778bd77

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2018 @ 6:49am

    Wasn't this settled

    with the Pentagon Papers case?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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