The First Amendment Protects Angeli Gomez’ Right to Speak About Her Experience

The Mama Bear
Heroine of Uvalde

by Marc J. Randazza

Angeli Gomez probably would find the title “the heroine of Uvalde” to be embarrassing.  Therefore, if she reads this, I must apologize for calling her that.  But, Ms. Gomez demonstrated character and conduct that makes “heroine” a proper term for her.  Her statement “I’m going in there” should be enshrined on a monument somewhere, with nearly as much honor as the words “lets roll.” 

The Uvalde police?  Just the opposite.  Everyone knows their ineptitude and cowardice — waiting an hour while a loser shot kids inside the school.  Ms. Gomez, frustrated with government flunkies, tried to go in and save her kids.  Apparently a U.S. Marshal put her in handcuffs for “intervening in an active investigation.” (source)  “Right away, as I parked, a US Marshal started coming toward my car, saying that I wasn’t allowed to be parked there,” she recalled. “And he said, Well, we’re gonna have to arrest you because you’re being very uncooperative.” (source)  (second source

Local cops freed her, and she ran off, over the fence, into the school, grabbed her two kids and ran out.  

Again, the words “Uvalde Police Department” should be, from this day forward, synonymous with “incompetence” and “cowardice” and “ineptitude.”  That police department is 40% of the town’s budget.  They have a SWAT team, and yet a middle aged field-worker-mom showed more competence and heroism than this entire paramilitary over-funded group of preening tax-fattened losers?  

I am not a “Defund the Police” Guy, but this is definitely a waste of money.

As if the Uvalde Police couldn’t be any worse, they decided to try and shut her up, the First Amendment be damned.   

They then threatened Ms. Gomez for talking to the press about what cowardly clowns the Uvalde P.D. was, is, and shall forever be known.  She is on probation (I do not know why) for an event 10 years ago.  They’ve threatened her with a probation violation for “obstruction of justice” because she won’t stay silent. (source at 4:45) 

The First Amendment protects your right to speak your mind about how the government acts — not matter what, but especially if you’re a first-hand witness to (and participant in) a matter of public concern.  

The government does not get to threaten criminal prosecution for discussing a matter if public concern.  Even stolen top secret documents are lawful to publish. See New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971); Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 727 (1972) (“the right to publish is central to the First Amendment and basic to the existence of constitutional democracy.”). If one can publish The Pentagon Papers, Ms. Gomez can talk about her experience.  

This First Amendment violation was so grossly out of bounds, she should sue the living hell out of whichever agency threatened her.  This is a clear example of retaliation for the exercise of First Amendment protected conduct.  

To show First Amendment retaliation, a plaintiff must show: (1) that “he or she engaged in constitutionally protected conduct”; (2) that “he or she was subjected to an adverse action by the defendant”; and (3) that “the protected conduct was a substantial or motivating factor in the adverse action.” David B. v. Esposito, 675 F.3d 26, 43 (1st Cir. 2012). An adverse action is one that “viewed objectively … would have a chilling effect on [the plaintiff’s] exercise of First Amendment rights,” Barton v. Clancy, 632 F.3d 9, 29 & n.19 (1st Cir. 2011), or that “would deter a reasonably hardy person from exercising his or her constitutional rights.” D.B., 675 F.3d at 43 n.11.

“[T]he First Amendment prohibits government officials from subjecting an individual to retaliatory actions … for speaking out.” Hartman v. Moore, 547 U.S. 250, 256 (2006); see also Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U.S. 593, 597 (1972). The First Amendment retaliation doctrine addresses “constitutional violations may arise from the deterrent, or ‘chilling,’ effect of governmental efforts that fall short of a direct prohibition against the exercise of First Amendment rights.” Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs, Wabaunsee Cty., Kan. v. Umbehr, 518 U.S. 668, 674 (1996). 

Ms. Gomez did, indeed stop talking to the press for a period of time — fearing the threats that law enforcement would consider this to be a probation violation.  Reportedly, a judge told her that her probation would actually be shortened, as a reward for her bravery.  (source)  I am not sure how that might have happened, and there are moving parts in this story that are unclear.  But still, I can think of few clearer First Amendment violations than this.

The deprivation of First Amendment rights, even for a short period of time, is intolerable — especially when the government is threatening criminal prosecution for the exercise of those rights.  And this is especially so when someone is a participant in a matter of public concern, discussing what she saw with her own eyes and ears.

Insert the sound of a screeching eagle, here.

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