GAINESVILLE, Texas — The ACLU of Texas today submitted a letter to the Cooke County Attorney expressing concerns about the prosecution of a Gainesville man in violation of his constitutionally protected right to free speech.
In September 2020, Joel Luis Najera of Gainesville made a $10 contribution to a fundraising page for Progressive Rights Organizers of Gainesville, a group of racial justice organizers. In an effort to parody Gainesville Police Chief Kevin Phillips for his alleged treatment of peaceful protesters, Najera displayed his donation under the name “PC Kevin Phillips.” With the contribution, Najera included the satirical comment, “I need attention, and these kids help me get it. Every villain needs a hero!” When Philips found out about the donation in his name, he contacted the Texas Rangers to launch an investigation into who made the comment. On Feb. 3, 2021, the Cooke County Attorney’s Office filed a criminal charge against Najera and sought a warrant for his arrest for “online impersonation,” a Class A misdemeanor.
“Police chiefs and their departments are not immune from public criticism under the First Amendment,” said Savannah Kumar, attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “We urge the Cooke County Attorney to respect the First Amendment rights of Cooke County residents and immediately drop the charges against Mr. Najera.”
The letter to the Cook County Attorney states that under the Texas Penal Code, Najera’s words cannot be considered “online impersonation” because he lacked the necessary intent to harm or defraud another person. Also, it addresses how Texas courts have made clear that prosecution under Section 33.07 does not extend to individuals who engage in constitutionally protected political parody or satire.
The ACLU of Texas is seeking to have the charges against Najera dropped, as his prosecution is unlawful and unconstitutional.