A Texas citizen journalist, who calls herself Lagordiloca (the fat crazy woman) and livestreams crime scenes, has been charged for revealing the name of a person who died of an apparent suicide before police had announced it.
Priscilla Villarreal, 32, posts Facebook Live videos to her page Lagordiloca News LaredoTx and is not affiliated with any traditional media organizations. Over 80,000 people like her page and watch her livestreams, filmed at police scenes and accidents in Laredo, Texas, where Villarreal often speaks to authorities and adds commentary on what is happening or news she has heard.
On Dec. 13, she was charged with two counts of misuse of official information, a third-degree felony, according to local news reports.
The charges related partly to a case involving the death of a local US Borders and Customs Patrol worker, who died of an apparent suicide in April. The Washington Post reports that authorities believe Villarreal got the name of the man from a Laredo police officer and published it before it had been officially released to the public.
It is rare that a journalist or reporter would be charged over reporting, particularly regarding information that would eventually be made available to the public.
A statement provided Friday afternoon to BuzzFeed News by the Laredo Police Department mentions the police department wanting to protect both free speech and privacy (it does not specifically mention Villarreal but was provided after a media request about her):
The Laredo Police Department is determined to protecting and serving the community with a seamless commitment to professional and courteous service. Part of that commitment is the fulfillment of protecting everyone’s rights under the law, especially to the right of freedom of speech. Additionally, there is also an obligation to the protection of a person’s right to privacy as it relates to sensitive information. As a law enforcement agency we are entrusted with sensitive information which relates to criminal investigations and citizen’s private affairs. As custodians of such vital information we are also tasked with the appropriate disclosure of such information under the law.
It noted that the criminal investigation against Villarreal is "an open, fluid investigation that has not been finalized."
The Laredo Morning Times quoted from the criminal complaint, which states that 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.'"
BuzzFeed News has reached out to Villarreal, but has yet to hear back from her.
The Laredo Morning Times also noted that officer Barbara J. Goodman, who was a 19-year veteran of the Laredo Police, has been placed on administrative reassignment over allegations she leaked information to Villarreal.
Laredo Police confirmed to BuzzFeed News that Goodman has been reassigned "pending the outcome of the internal and criminal investigations which are ongoing in relationship to a misuse of official information case."
Laredo Morning Times reports that the arrest affidavit said that, between Jan. 1 and July 26, Goodman and Villarreal called each other over 500 times and "on specific dates that coincide with law enforcement activities."
Villarreal filmed herself on Facebook Live in the early hours of Dec. 13, hours before she went to the Laredo Police Station to turn herself in. She explains, in Spanish, that she learned the previous day that police had two warrants out for her arrest. "You have known that from the start, police have tried to bring something against me," she told her listeners.
Villarreal also noted in the video that Laredo police were trying to blame an officer (she doesn't name them) who had "absolutely nothing" to do with it. Villarreal calls the officer "very honored, respectful of their work" and said her tips came from locals and readers.
"The only thing that they want is to stop me from reporting to you what is happening in Laredo," said Villarreal in Spanish.
She also filmed her drive to the Laredo Police Station on the afternoon of Dec. 13.
Villarreal, who calls her cars the Night Rider and the Blue Demon, according to a new Texas Monthly profile, drives around most nights in Laredo to film and report on crimes. She has frustrated some locals and authorities because she swears, will show things of a graphic nature, and doesn't abide by normal journalistic traditions.
"A lot of people have messaged me thanking me for what I do, and a lot of people have messaged me pissed off because I showed a certain clip," Villarreal told Texas Monthly.
"In the two years that I’ve been Lagordiloca, I’ve learned some lessons, what to show and not to show. But people need to know what happened."
Priscilla Villarreal's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.