Texas girls arrested, facing felony charges for making fake Facebook profile

TEXAS — Two young students in Hood County have beenarrested for creating a fake Facebook account using the name of a classmate,and were taken to a juvenile detention facility on felony charges.

The girls, ages 12 and13, were each arrested July 16 on a count of online impersonation, athird-degree felony, said Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds.

Deeds said thevictim’s mother alerted authorities June 28 after she discovered the site. Thevictim, a girl who did not have a real Facebook page, did not know about thesite until it had been active for more than a month, he said. The account had63 friends before it was shut down.

The profile, which wasseized by the sheriff’s office, displayed a photo of a celebrity that resembledthe 12-year-old girl. Lt. Johnny Rose of the Hood County Sheriff’s Office saidthe girls made threats to other students while pretending to be the victim and“damaged the victim’s reputation.” Rose did not say what those threatsentailed.

The site was monitoredfor weeks before the arrest was made, he said, noting the victim figured outwho was behind it. After the arrest, the girls were transported to the GranburyRegional Juvenile Justice Center.

What happened nextremains a mystery. It is unclear whether the girls are still in detention or ifthey were given a court hearing.

On Wednesday, Rosesaid the girls were still being held at the center and were awaiting a hearingwith County Court-at-Law Judge Vincent Messina. On Thursday, 10 days after thearrest, Deeds said he believed the girls had attended a hearing and werereleased, but he could not confirm that. He said the case is now out of thehands of the sheriff’s office.

But Messina has notheld any hearings in the case, a staff member in Messina’s office saidThursday. An official from the district court in Hood County said the case hadnot been heard in that court.

County Attorney KeltonConner was out of the office until Monday and could not be reached for comment.

According to the county’swebsite, “if sufficient evidence exists your child may possibly be placed indetention for a 10-day period, with hearings held every 10 days.”

Texas state law,however, appears to entitle juveniles to a detention hearing no later than thesecond working day following arrest.

As to the currentlocation of the girls, Deeds said the only person who could confirm whether thegirls have been released from the center is Beth Pate, the juvenile probationdirector. Deeds said Pate was on vacation the week of the arrest, and she remainedunavailable for comment Thursday.

An official from the juvenilejustice center hung up when asked about the girls on Thursday.

Texas’ online impersonation law was enacted in 2009. The lawmakes it a felony to use the “name or persona” of another person, without theirpermission, to create a page or send a message on a social networking website “withthe intent to harm, defraud, intimidate, or threaten any person.”

Only a handful of cases have been brought under the law. Oneof the first was dropped earlier this year because the man charged did notlive in Texas.

Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate with the Student Press LawCenter, said he believes the law is unconstitutional – not only in the case ofthe two girls, but on its face.

“After the ‘stolen valor’ case, it’s hard to see how you canprohibit lying,” he said. “Because this isn’t a law that prohibits what wenormally think of as identity theft. And it’s hard to understand what an‘intent to harm’ is in this context.”

Goldstein referred to a June 28 decision by the U.S. SupremeCourt striking down a federal law that criminalized lying about receivingmilitary decorations. The Court ruled that lying – without seeking anyfinancial gain – is protected by the First Amendment.

By Sydni Dunn, SPLC staff writer