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Breaking News Before Local Cops Do Lands Laredo Vlogger With Felony Charges

Sharing arrest and accident info on Facebook before cops can tell "official" media is not OK, say Laredo police—and nevermind that one of their own was the source.

modified from LaGordiloca/Facebookmodified from LaGordiloca/FacebookPosting local crime news online before the cops do could land you felony charges in Texas. That's what Priscilla Villarreal—who runs a hyper-local Laredo news page on Facebook called LaGordiloca—found out last week.

LaGordiloca's nearly 84,000 followers and Villarreal's wide range of posts (often in both English and Spanish) on community events haven't earned her consideration as "official" media from the Laredo Police Department (LPD), apparently. And the department doesn't seem too keen on honoring the First Amendment rights of ordinary folks.

Police last Wednesday charged Villarreal with two counts of "misuse of official information," a third-degree felony. The information she allegedly misused was provided to her by a longtime patrol officer with the department charging her.

We're not talking about whistleblower stuff or private details about investigations. This wasn't information classified as non-public or prohibited from disclosure under Texas public-information law. It concerned things like local arrests and traffic accidents—information that was already or would soon be made publicly available. But LPD's Public Information Office would generally control the timing (and framing) of its release, with selective tips given to professional media outlets and an official statement posted to the LPD website and to social media. Villarreal subverted this process.

According to the Laredo Morning Times, this is the first misuse of information case prosecuted in Webb County. Police have been investigating since July and have already pored through Villarreal's phone records.

Phone records reveal hundreds of texts since the beginning of the year between Villarreal and LPD Officer Barbara Goodman, according to the criminal complaint against Villarreal. (Goodman, a 19-year veteran of the department, was placed on administrative leave last week pending internal and criminal investigations.) These tips helped Villarreal break stories before "official news media" did and post them to the LaGordiloca Facebook page before the LPD posted it to theirs. And this allowed Villarreal to gain "popularity in 'Facebook,'" the complaint states.

That last bit—police saying Villarreal's goal in sharing information was personal attention, not public dissemination of the news—is crucial to the charges against her. Of course informing the public and gaining Facebook popularity aren't mutually exclusive, no more so than selling advertising and breaking local news is for more traditional media outlets. But for police purposes here, it's only the personal-gain part that matters.

Texas law says a person can be guilty of misuse of official information if they solicit or receive information from a public servant, the official "has access to [that information] by means of his office or employment," the info "has not been made public" yet, and the person receiving it does so "with intent to obtain a benefit or with intent to harm or defraud another" (emphasis mine). Villarreal was clearly not trying to harm or defraud anyone by publishing local news to LaGordiloca, so police must show that she did so "with intent to obtain a benefit" in order to make the misuse-of-information charge stick.

On a GoFundMe page soliciting help to pay for an attorney, Villarreal describes LaGordiloca as performing services that "local media outlets fail to provide" and going behind closed doors "whether it be the City Council Chambers, The Judges Chambers or the Police Department."

"I strongly believe that censorship only hinders the advancement of a society," writes Villarreal. "I strongly believe in freedom of information and freedom of speech. I am in NO way a scholar of a higher learning institute but I am in my own way a graduate of the school of life most importantly the curriculum of what is right and what is wrong. … I continue to be adamant that transparency in the political and law enforcement theater is the base for trust."

Villarreal's attorney told the Laredo Morning Times that she denied the allegations and they "anxiously await for the case to go to court for her name to be cleared."

Photo Credit: LaGordiloca/Facebook

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  • Libertarian||

    "Texas law says a person can be guilty of misuse of official information if . . .the person receiving it does so "with intent to obtain a benefit . . . "

    Until now, I had no idea that local reporters worked for free.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    I don't think they need a clause in their law. No one does anything unless they receive some benefit for it.

  • gaoxiaen||

    I guess that Texas will start licensing journalists, and registering their readers.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    The information she allegedly misused was provided to her by a longtime patrol officer with the department charging her

    I don't understand this section.

  • Juice||

    How are you misunderstanding? I don't understand.

  • Robert||

    Was it by a patrol officer who'd been working for a long time with the department that's now charging the reporter, or charging the officer, with a felony? Or was the longtime patrol officer charging the reporter money for the info?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Its all a big misunderstanding.

  • gaoxiaen||

    I'd always misunderestimated you.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    That's an understated estimate.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Sharing arrest and accident info on Facebook before cops can tell "official" media is not OK,

    Long live Soave!

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Texas law says a person can be guilty of misuse of official information if they solicit or receive information from a public servant, the official "has access to [that information] by means of his office or employment," the info "has not been made public" yet, and the person receiving it does so "with intent to obtain a benefit or with intent to harm or defraud another"

    How fun!

  • ALWAYS RIGHT||

    If someone publishes a lie that the mayor stole public money, this lie is Constitutionally protected. If it is true that the mayor stole public money, it is a crime to publish this truth while it is official but not yet released.

    Try to figure out why this law was passed by a majority.

  • Griffin3||

    Passed by a majority of thieving lawmakers. But I repeat myself.

  • dantheserene||

    I want to know if they're going after her for something specific she's already done, or are just trying to shut her down before she breaks a story they really don't want getting out. Could also be both, obviously.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I smell a 1st Amendment freedom of the press lawsuit coming too.

    I am sure NBC, CBS, Politico, NYT, and other media outlets would send in a team of lawyers to defend one of theirs on something like this.

  • SIV||

  • gaoxiaen||

    That reminds me of one of my favorite poems. I have to post it once in a while.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBHicyqMML4

  • ALWAYS RIGHT||

    The ruling class makes it a crime to provide public information by labeling the public information official information. The information is public and official at the same time. The dangerous part is that 99% of the sheeple will comply with this nonsense and convict when they are on a jury. The enemy of freedom is the compliant majority. When I run into these bad people, I tell them how much I hate their fucking guts.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I have learned that these sheeple don't actually liked being called sheeple.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Guts make nice necklaces, and are mighty tasty Cajun style or Chinese style, stewed in soy sauce.

  • Robert||

    They're looking at section 39.06, but its application is limited by 39.01(2)(C) generally, and more specifically by 39.06(d), which says "information that has not been made public" means any information to which the public does not generally have access, and that is prohibited from disclosure under Chapter 552, Government Code. It links to that section. Basically, there'd have to be something confidential about the info for it to be made illegal use of:

    Sec. 552.006. EFFECT OF CHAPTER ON WITHHOLDING PUBLIC INFORMATION. This chapter does not authorize the withholding of public information or limit the availability of public information to the public, except as expressly provided by this chapter.

    All the provisions there are narrow, and I strongly doubt any would apply to the sorts of disclosures the online reporter's been making. Search yourself — http://www.statutes.legis.stat.....52.htm#552

  • BYODB||

    Seems about right, I suspect that they're charging this person hoping that either they voluntarily shut up in the future or that they won't be able to fight it in court. It seems like nothing more than an attempt to silence this person, and it should be interesting to see what happens to the leaker behind the blue line.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    Goddamnit, I am such a libertarian right now.

  • Tionico||

    Once more, the prosecution is the penalty. They will try and break her by dragging this out, putting forth all manner of illegal and crazy restrictions and requirements for her to fulfill, and generally try to make her life so miserable she'll come crawling to them for a plea bargain. But I think they have NO CLUE with whom they have to do. She seems like one feisty critter... maybe these hooh hahs with the Big Blue Pants on may find they've just tried to corner a big ol' Mama coon...... once she gets her claws into them they WILL regret it.

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