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Law > News Hits

Supporters in the court

 

Published 2/25/2009

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If we ever get into a jam with the law, News Hits can only hope we might muster just a fraction of the support reporter Diane Bukowski is receiving as she faces prosecution for allegedly resisting arrest while covering a police chase last year that ended with a fatal accident. As a freelancer for The Michigan Citizen, she may be on the lower rungs of journalism when it comes to income, but in terms of generating esteem in the community she serves, Bukowski has obviously banked an abundance of goodwill and appreciation over the years.

We counted between 20 and 30 supporters who showed up at a court proceeding involving the veteran journalist last week. An even greater number have added their names to the Committee to Defend Diane Bukowski and Freedom of the Press, including a Detroit City Council member and a member of the city's school board, several local union leaders, a state representative and a judge. Also showing up on that list are a handful of prominent attorneys who have handled cases involving police abuse and wrongful shootings — issues that have received special attention from Bukowski.

The outpouring of support may explain, at least in part, why she appears remarkably at ease for a person facing the possibility of spending as much as four years in prison if convicted on the two felony counts of resisting arrest she's charged with. That she projects an absolute conviction of having done nothing wrong also helps.

The story starts on Election Day of 2008, when Bukowski was the first print reporter to arrive at the scene of an accident on Detroit's northeast side. A motorcyclist fleeing Michigan State Police had struck a pedestrian, and both were killed. Bukowski started snapping photos. Even though Bukowski claims to have identified herself as a reporter, one of the cops allegedly screamed, "Who the fuck do you think you are?"

What's not disputed is that a cop subsequently grabbed the digital camera from Bukowski and erased the pictures she had taken. In 36th District Court last week, Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Thomas Trzcinski attempted to justify the officer's action, saying it was an attempt to protect the family of the deceased from seeing gruesome photos showing up in the paper.

Forget for a moment that the bodies were covered with tarps by the time Bukowski showed up. As Judge Michael Hathaway correctly pointed out, "The police aren't there to protect the sensibilities of the deceased's families."

In fact, according to attorney Arnold Reed, it was the police who broke the law that day. Erasing those photos, he says, is destruction of evidence. Beyond that is the constitutional protection given reporters as they attempt to gather news. This is
clearly a First Amendment issue, which is why the Michigan ACLU has filed
an amicus brief on behalf of Bukowski.

As ACLU attorney Mark Fancher told the court, the organization isn't seeking to become involved in an attempt to prove Bukowski's innocence, but rather to make sure that this prosecution doesn't produce a kind of chilling effect among area journalists.

"The ACLU of Michigan's concerns about the propriety of the prosecution of Diane Bukowski in this matter are due in no small part to her long, distinguished history of exposing government irregularities and corruption," the brief states. "Over the years, she has specifically fixed her gaze on the activities of the Detroit Police Department. ...

"Thus, the danger is real that any ruling or verdict by this court that is adverse to the defendant's interest (whether deserved or not), will be perceived by many as retaliation for her journalistic work."

The brief goes on to note that those suspicions are "bolstered" by the fact that Bukowski is being so "zealously" prosecuted for an alleged crime that caused no one any real harm.

The prosecutor's office isn't buying that line of thinking.

"Wayne County Prosecutor's Office has evaluated the facts alleged in this case and we have issued criminal charges against Ms. Bukowski because we believe that we can prove her case beyond a reasonable doubt," says Maria Miller, spokeswoman for the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office.

The case is set for trial in April.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Send comments to NewsHits@metrotimes.com.

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