In a case that would appear to raise First Amendment questions, a Mesquite, Texas, woman has been arrested and charged with a felony after she allegedly posted a photograph of an undercover narcotics officer on Facebook and identified him as a narc. Melissa Walthall, 30, was charged with felony retaliation after Mesquite police deemed her post "a viable threat to the officer's safety."
Walthall got into trouble after an acquaintance of hers went to the Mesquite Police and told them a photograph of a man labeled "Undercover Mesquite Narcotics" had appeared on her newsfeed. "Anyone know this bitch?" asked the caption below the photo.
Walthall reportedly told police she had seen the photo on a flyer several weeks earlier and had posted it on Facebook because a friend of hers was unhappy with the narc's testimony in a drug trial. Walthall refused to snitch out her friend, but a police computer search led them to a George Pickens.
Pickens told police he and his brother, Bobby Stedham, had begun researching the narc online and found his Facebook page and photograph, then used the photo to make flyers with the intent to display them locally "like garage sale signs."
Stedham now also faces a felony retaliation charge, while Pickens was hit with drugs and weapons charges after police found an ounce of meth and a sawed-off shotgun at his residence.
Law enforcement spokesmen defended the arrests.
"It's a very dangerous situation," said Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association. "If you're trying to infiltrate a cartel, a drug ring, a gang, one of the keys is people have to believe you're not an officer. Anything that hints at tying you to law enforcement is very dangerous," he said.
Walthill and Stedham's flyers and Facebook posts did not call for retaliation against the narc, but merely identified him, raising interesting First Amendment questions. It will be interesting to see if they fight the charges, and if they get any help from civil libertarians.