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.