Covered by ABC News earlier today, 30-year-old Melissa Walthall of Mesquite, Texas faces a felony retaliation charge after allegedly using her Facebook account to upload a photo of an undercover police officer. According to Mesquite police, Walthall posted the photograph of the narcotics officer on Facebook after he testified against 34-year-old George Pickens during a drug trial that occurred two months prior to the incident. In the caption of the photo, Walthall specifically mentioned that the officer was working undercover and posted “Anyone know this [expletive]?” in the description. It’s likely that Walthall was attempting to use social media to figure out the identity of the officer and subsequently spread that information rapidly online.
While Walthall’s Facebook profile was set to private, Mesquite police learned of the photo after one of Walthall’s Facebook friends spotted the photograph with the revealing caption within their News feed. The unnamed person immediately notified police and supplied the police department with a copy of the photo. After questioning Walthall, police learned that the photo had been supplied by Pickens.
After searching online, Pickens had discovered the photo on Facebook without any tag to identify the undercover officer’s personal Facebook account. Opposite from Walthall, his idea for social distribution to reveal the officer’s true identity was far less technologically advanced. With the help of his brother Bobby Stedham, Pickens made photocopies of the photo in the style of a lost cat or garage sale flyer. The duo planned to post the photo around local neighborhoods or pass it out on street corners.
When police searched the home where Pickens was residing, they discovered copies of the handout clearly outing the officer as undercover. They also discovered an unregistered sawed-off shotgun underneath the bed where Pickens slept as well as 28.6 grams of methamphetamine and a variety of equipment for drug distribution. For his role in the creation of the flyers, Stedham also faces a felony retaliation charge.
Detailed in the Texas Penal Code, retaliation is defined as “A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly harms or threatens to harm another by an unlawful act in retaliation for or on account of the service or status of another as a public servant, witness, prospective witness, or informant.”
However, authorities didn’t indicate if Walthall or Stedham will face significant jail time for their role in attempting to reveal the identify of the undercover officer that testified at Pickens’ trial.
Regarding the publication of the photo on Walthall’s Facebook profile, Texas Municipal Police Association executive director Kevin Lawrence stated “It’s a very dangerous situation. 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.” Regarding social media accounts among police officers, Lawrence continued “There are too many opportunities for bad things to happen in exchange for very little up side. But the fact the officer shouldn’t have had a Facebook doesn’t excuse her either.“