Court restarts lawsuit for arrest of Texan journalist

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) – A federal appeals court on Monday revived a lawsuit brought by a freelance online reporter in Texas who claims she was arrested for simply seeking information from police.

Priscilla Villarreal is called La Gordiloca on Facebook and Twitter. Monday’s notice from the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals describes her as a non-traditional journalist who posts live video and information about crime scenes in the Laredo area, along with “often not.” filtered ”sometimes critical of local authorities.

Her trial, revived in a 2-1 appeal court panel decision, said she was arrested in 2017 and charged with violating a little-known Texas law that a judge later ruled unconstitutional .

Monday’s notice said the law criminalizes a person’s soliciting information from public officials that has not been made public if the person seeking the information intends to benefit from it. one way or another. Villarreal had researched – and obtained from a police officer – the identity of a person who committed suicide and a family involved in a car accident and posted the information on his Facebook. The arrest affidavit stated that she had researched the information to gain followers on Facebook.

Charges against Villarreal were dismissed by a judge who ruled state law unconstitutionally vague. Villarreal sued Laredo officials, alleging that her constitutional rights to free speech and protection from illegal foreclosures were violated when police arrested her.

In district court records, lawyers for Laredo officials said the police acted in good faith and had no reason to believe that the law under which Villarreal was arrested would later be declared unconstitutional.

A Texas Federal District Judge found that officials were protected by “qualified immunity” – meaning the law largely protects them for actions they take in the course of their official duties.

But two of the three New Orleans-based 5th Circuit judges disagreed, overturning much of the district court’s ruling.

“Priscilla Villarreal was jailed for asking a police officer a question,” wrote for the majority Judge James Ho, appointed by former President Donald Trump. “If this isn’t a clear violation of the Constitution, it’s hard to imagine what it would be. And as the Supreme Court has repeatedly stated, public officials are not entitled to qualified immunity for obvious violations of the Constitution. “

Ho was joined by Judge James Graves, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama. Judge Priscilla Owen, appointed by former President George W. Bush, expressed her dissent. The court said his reasons would be released later.


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