Facebook Crime Chaser Takes Heat for Releasing Sensitive Information
A Texas woman who heads to crime scenes and broadcasts her own crime reports on Facebook is facing charges after she broadcast the name of a man who committed suicide before the police department released the information. This time, police say, the crime chaser has gone too far.
Priscilla Villarreal, 33, a Texas woman who has made a name for herself on social media by heading to crime scenes and broadcasting reports on her Facebook page, is being charged for airing the name of a man who took his life before the police department released details of the incident. Villarreal was charged with two counts of misuse of official information, a third-degree felony, after broadcasting the man’s name, which she claimed was provided to her by a Laredo, Texas, police officer. The deceased man is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture supervisory program manager, who committed suicide by jumping from an overpass.
A police spokesperson said the officer who had leaked the information, Barbara J. Goodman, a 19-year veteran patrol officer, was placed on leave after officials received a warrant to search her phone and discovered hundreds of calls and messages she had exchanged with Villarreal. Police said the two “contacted each other on a regular basis and on specific dates that coincide with law enforcement activities,” according to court documents.
The Laredo Police Department began investigating the case July 10, 2017, when its Office of Professional Standards received information that Goodman had been communicating with Villarreal. The complaint details “(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” and says she “placed her ‘Facebook’ page ahead of the local official news media which in turn gained her popularity in ‘Facebook’.” Villarreal countered the charges, alleging her free-speech rights had been violated.
Villarreal calls herself Lagordiloca—a play on the Spanish phrase “la gorda loca,” or “the crazy fat lady” crime chaser. She has no formal journalism or police training, yet has nearly 90,000 Facebook followers. Villarreal turned herself in and was briefly jailed before she began to fight the charges against her.
Many of the posts aired by the crime chaser have sparked controversy. Last spring, she posted allegations about abuse at a daycare center that proved unfounded, and the center sued for defamation, obtaining a judgment of about $300,000 after Villarreal failed to present in court. She also reported that police had warned a local elementary school about a man who had “an urge to kill children,” and parents across the city rushed to bring their children home, even though the predator was already detained and no longer a threat.
Of the suicide incident, Laredo Police Chief Claudio Treviño released a statement saying the department is committed to protecting and serving residents. He stated of this promise, “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.”