Citizen journalist arrested for publishing information before local police
Citizen journalist Priscilla Villarreal was arrested by the Laredo Police Department and charged with two felony counts of “misuse of official information” on December 13, 2017.
Villarreal — an independent journalist based in Laredo, Texas who is often known by her nickname “La Gordiloca” — published the name of a Border Patrol agent who committed suicide on her Facebook page in April, before the Laredo Police Department’s official release about the incident.
The Laredo Morning Times reported on December 15 that a veteran patrol officer, Barbara J. Goodman, provided the name of the agent to Villarreal, but the journalist denies Goodman was her source. Investigators obtained subpoenas for the phone records of both Villarreal and Goodman.
“Misuse of official information” charges in Texas require that a person obtain nonpublic information from a public official and disseminate it with the intention of benefiting or harming another entity. Authorities argued in the criminal complaint filed against Villarreal that she benefited from publishing the agent’s name by gaining Facebook followers.
Texas Monthly reported that the complaint reads, “Villarreal’s access to this information and releasing it on ‘Lagordiloca News Laredo Tx,’ before the official release by the Laredo Police Department Public Information Officer placed her ‘Facebook’ page ahead of the local official news media which in turn gained her popularity in Facebook.”
According to the Washington Post, Villarreal turned herself in voluntarily, but believes she is innocent of wrongdoing and that the police are attempting to silence her reporting.
Villarreal and her legal representation were not immediately available for comment.
A Texas state district judge dismissed the charges against Villarreal, the San Antonio Express-News reports. Judge Monica Notzon ruled that the statute under which she was charged — which criminalizes the “misuse of official information” — was unconstitutionally vague.
Isido Alaniz, the district attorney who signed off on Villarreal’s arrest, said that he does not plan to appeal the judge’s ruling.