Journalist, 12, faces off with police officer who threatened to arrest her

Sam Wolfson

Hilde Lysiak filmed the encounter with an Arizona marshal, demanding to know what crime she was being accused of

It sounds like something from children’s fiction: a 12-year-old intrepid journalist who fights off threats from the mob and local police to self-publish the truth about her local area in her own newspaper.

But Hilde Lysiak, the editor of the Orange Street News, is the real deal. In 2016, when she was just nine years old, she broke the story of a homicide in her hometown of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, interviewing witnesses and locals hours before other news outlets had ever reached the scene. Hilde’s scoop became a bigger story than the murder. Since then she has broken exclusives on rapes, robberies and a roaming mountain lion as well as fending off threatening text messages after reporting on an alleged drug dealer.

Now Hilde is making headlines of her own once again, after she filmed an Arizona town marshal, Joseph Patterson, threatening her. In the feisty exchange, she repeatedly asks the officer why he threatened to throw her in juvenile prison and what crime she had supposedly committed.

Patterson incorrectly tells her that it would be illegal for her to post a video of the exchange online. It’s a first amendment right to film and publish exchanges with law enforcement. Patterson has since been disciplined by local officials.

According to Hilde’s account in the Orange Street News, she had been riding her bike chasing down a tip when Patterson stopped her. She identified herself as a journalist and Patterson told her: “I don’t want to hear about any of that freedom of the press stuff … I’m going to have you arrested and thrown in juvie.”

After asking what she could be arrested for, Hilde claims Patterson first said she could be arrested for “disobeying his command”, then for riding on the wrong side of the road, then because a mountain lion was spotted in the area – although she points out that “other people in the area who were not kicked off the road”.

The recorded exchange took place after this initial threat, when Patterson again says he could arrest her and Hilde repeatedly asks what crime she has committed. Patterson this time tells her she lied to law enforcement. The video has now been viewed more than 170,000 times.

Law enforcement responded on Wednesday via the town of Patagonia’s website. In all caps, they wrote that they they had received many comments about the confrontation. “The matter has been carefully reviewed and we have taken action we believe to be appropriate for the situation,” the statement said. “We do not publicly disclose personnel actions including discipline and will have no further comment on this matter.” Hilde has also said she won’t be doing any interviews about the incident.

Some people had reposted the video with Patterson’s personal phone number in an attempt to dox the officer. On Twitter Hilde discouraged this, saying: “I am glad the town has ‘taken action’ but one note, I don’t believe people should spread around the Marshal’s personal information on the Internet. My focus is on protecting our First Amendment Rights. Thank you.”

Even before this incident, Hilde’s journalistic exploits have now been made into a Scholastic book series called Hilde Cracks the Case. In the first book she solves the mystery of the stolen cupcakes from an Orange Street bakery. More titles, and a TV series have been developed. Perhaps Hilde Shuts Up a Cop will be among them.