An Arizona town has apologized to a 12-year-old self-declared news reporter after a police officer threatened to arrest her for chasing a story.
Hilde Lysiak, the editor of her own Pennsylvania publication, the Orange Street News, was riding her bike to investigate a story tip while in Patagonia, Arizona, when she was stopped by town marshal Joseph Patterson, who threatened to put her in juvenile jail.
At a town council meeting on Wednesday night, Patagonia’s mayor formally apologized.
“The governing body of the town of Patagonia would like to apologize for the first amendment rights violation inflicted upon Hilde Lysiak, a young reporter who is in our community,” said the mayor, Andrea Wood.
“We are sorry, Hilde. We encourage and respect your continued aspirations as a successful reporter. We believe and fully support the constitutional right to freedom of speech in the public sector. We will not tolerate bias of any kind including infringement of freedom of speech,” she said.
The clash between the small-town officer and the young reporter made headlines after Lysiak posted a story about it on her site. Patterson stopped her and asked for ID, and Lysiak told him she was a reporter.
“I don’t want to hear about any of that freedom of the press stuff,” the marshal said, according to Lysiak’s Orange Street News account.
“I’m going to have you arrested and thrown in ‘juvey’,” he reportedly said.
In a second run-in captured on video, Lysiak asked the marshal what crime she had committed and why he stopped her earlier.
He told her, falsely, that it was illegal for her to post the video online. In fact, it is legal to record in public, a right protected by the first amendment to the US constitution.
“If you put my face on the internet, it’s against the law in Arizona,” Patterson said.
Lysiak said on Thursday she was satisfied with the town’s apology.
“I want to thank Mayor Andrea Wood and the town council. I am so relieved. This wasn’t just about me but about the first amendment rights of every other citizen in town, especially those who unlike me, don’t have a microphone,” she said on Thursday. “Now I just want to move forward with covering the news.”
Lysiak, who was reporting on the situation at the US-Mexico border while in Arizona, has made a name for herself with the newspaper she founded in her hometown of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania.
At the age of nine, she was the first to break the news of a murder in town. Her scoop drew more attention when she fended off online critics who said a crime scene was no place for a young girl.