U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Town marshal stops young journalist in Arizona, threatens to arrest her

Incident Details

February 18, 2019

Hilde Kate Lysiak, a 12-year-old reporter and publisher of Orange Street News, was stopped and threatened by an Arizona town marshal while she was reporting a story on Feb. 18, 2019.

At around 1:30 p.m., Lysiak was chasing down a lead on her bicycle when Joseph Patterson, the town marshal in Patagonia, Arizona, stopped her and asked for her identification. Lysiak told Patterson her name and phone number, and mentioned that she is a journalist.

Lysiak reported in OSN that Patterson told her, “I don’t want to hear about any of that freedom-of-the-press stuff.” He added that he would arrest her and send her to juvenile detention. Later, Lysiak ran into Patterson again, but this time she was recording.

In the video, which Lysiak published to YouTube and OSN, she can be heard saying, “You stopped me earlier and you said that I can be thrown in juvie. What exactly am I doing that’s illegal?”

Patterson began to respond, but interrupted himself to ask if she was recording the encounter. “You can tape me, OK,” he is heard saying, “but what I’m going to tell you is if you put my face on the internet, it’s against the law in Arizona.”

There is no such law and recording a law enforcement officer in a public place is protected under the First Amendment, a fact noted by Lysiak in her article about the incident.

Patterson told her that he had noticed her trailing him as he responded to urgent calls around town, and accused her of disobeying his commands and lying about heading to a friend’s house (which she disputed). He also said that his concern was that she would be harmed by the mountain lion that had been seen wandering through that area of town. Finally, he told her, “I’ll be getting a hold of your parents,” and drove off.

Lysiak, whose father is also a journalist, knew her rights and published the video anyway.

The Nogales International reported that the town of Patagonia posted a statement to its website on Feb. 24, after receiving “many comments” regarding the interaction between Lysiak and Patterson. “The matter has been carefully reviewed and we have taken action we believe to be appropriate for the situation,” it said. The statement also noted that the town does not disclose personnel actions, including disciplinary actions, and would provide no further comment on the incident.

On Feb. 27, the town issued an apology during a Town Council meeting. In a video of the meeting published by Lysiak, Patagonia Mayor Andrea Wood said, “The governing body of the town of Patagonia would like to apologize for the First Amendment rights violation inflicted upon Hilde Lysiak, a young reporter who is in our community. We are sorry Hilde, we encourage and respect your continued aspirations as a successful reporter.”

Lysiak made a name for herself in 2016, when she was the first to report on a grisly murder in her hometown of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. Her continued reporting on local crime has garnered her many supporters, but also resulted in some threats. In January, Lysiak received threatening messages following her reporting on text message exchanges between an alleged drug dealer and his alleged accomplice in a car theft.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].