ROSWELL, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico woman has been convicted of creating a public nuisance by posting an online comment about the possibility of a shooting at her son’s middle school.
Jeanette Garza Alvarez of Roswell was given a 30-day deferred sentence and ordered to pay $29 in court costs after she was convicted Tuesday of a petty misdemeanor following an hour-long trial in Municipal Court, the Roswell Daily Record) reported.
Defense attorney Luke Ragsdale said Thursday that Alvarez’s First Amendment free-speech rights are being violated and that her conviction will be appealed to state District Court.
A criminal complaint filed by police said Alvarez posted Jan. 29 on her Facebook page that her son told her that several eighth-graders were planning to take guns to school and have a shootout.
The complaint also said Alvarez told investigators that her post was intended to gather information but that there were 160 student absences the next school day, most resulting from her post, in addition to at least 100 phone calls to the school about the post.
Tom Burris, superintendent of the Roswell school district, said Alvarez’s Facebook post was an alarming and inappropriate online comment by a parent and led to the spread of rumors.
“I think that the things that are on Facebook can be very disruptive to school,” he said. “It’s the (old) rumor mill issue that I say one thing and then it gets taken by somebody else in another way, and then in another way, and then another way, and pretty soon you’ve got a problem. I think it started out as inappropriate.”
Burris encouraged anyone hearing about possible school threats to contact school officials rather than posting something online.
Ragsdale, the defense lawyer, said Alvarez didn’t do anything wrong. “She didn’t tell anybody to not go to school. She didn’t even tell her own child to not go to school,” he said.
It’s legally “completely incorrect” that Alvarez had to contact school officials rather than pose questions online, Ragsdale said. “There’s no law that requires that,” he said.
Roswell schools have been plagued with bomb threats and other threats in recent months, the Record reported.