U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Univision journalist arrested, his phone seized while reporting in Arizona

Incident Details

Date of Incident
April 30, 2021
Gilbert, Arizona

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Arresting Authority
Gilbert Police Department
Unnecessary use of force?
Equipment Seized
Status of Seized Equipment
In custody
Search Warrant Obtained
November 22, 2022 - Update

Court sets aside conviction of Arizona journalist

The conviction of Univision Arizona news anchor León Felipe González Cortés was set aside on Nov. 22, 2022, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has confirmed.

González had been convicted in an April 2022 bench trial of interfering with a police officer and criminal trespassing while reporting on a hit-and-run, the Gilbert Municipal Court clerk’s office told the Tracker. He was fined $644 and the case was closed in July 2022.

González then filed a motion to set aside the judgment against him and the motion was granted in November, according to court documents reviewed by the Tracker.

In the April 2021 incident, Gilbert police arrested González and seized his cell phone, claiming that he was reporting “from the wrong side of police tape” and that his phone might contain “evidence of his criminal conduct.” As of August 2023, his phone has not been returned.

April 30, 2021

Local police officers arrested Univision Arizona news anchor León Felipe González Cortés and seized his cellphone while he was reporting in Gilbert, Arizona, on April 30, 2021.

González was in Gilbert, about 20 miles southeast of Phoenix, to report on the death of one policeman and critical injury of another the previous day. The officers were hit by a man driving a stolen pickup truck, who was being chased by police, according to The Arizona Republic. The man was later arrested on suspicion of first degree murder, the newspaper reported.

According to a motion filed in Gilbert Municipal Court on June 3 by attorneys for the journalist, González was one of several reporters covering the story in Gilbert that day. But he was the only one “arrested, handcuffed, transported, fingerprinted and charged” with a crime, according to the motion. Gilbert police records charge him with trespassing and interfering with an officer, the motion states; police charge that González was reporting “from the wrong side of police tape.”

González did not respond to a request for comment.

According to The Arizona Republic, attorneys representing González allege that police also seized his cellphone, threatened to access its contents by "brute force" and referred to him in a derogatory way as "compadre," in reference to his Latino heritage.

"[He] was wearing a Univision shirt, was accompanied by a Univision photographer, and he identified himself as a journalist to the Gilbert Police officers working at the scene," according to the motion, which demands that police return the cellphone to González.

In a statement to The Arizona Republic, Univision Arizona President and General Manager Joe Donnarumma said the channel supported its journalist and demanded immediate return of his cellphone, “a mobile journalism tool which was seized on baseless and unreasonable grounds."

"Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of our democracy,” Donnarumma said, “as are the tools, technologies and constitutionally protected newsgathering activities that our journalists employ every day across the country to keep our audiences informed."

Gilbert Police spokesperson Brenda Carrasco told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that González was arrested “after he intentionally walked inside a clearly-marked crime scene during the criminal investigation.” Carrasco said the journalist’s phone was seized “as evidence at the time of his arrest, as the Police Department had probable cause to believe that the phone contained evidence of his criminal conduct.”

A pre-trial conference on the charges against González is scheduled for July 8.

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