Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Police harass reporter

Yes. In America, not Russia

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan is asking a Detroit judge to consider whether felony police obstruction charges by the Wayne County prosecutor’s office against a freelance reporter could have a chilling effect on journalism. Diane Bukowski, a freelance reporter for The Michigan Citizen, a Detroit-based newsweekly focused on the state’s African-American community, was arrested and charged with five felony counts of obstructing police officers while reporting from the scene of a fatal police chase on Election Day on Detroit’s northeast side. In her story, Bukowski reported:
A Detroit motorcyclist returning from the polls Nov. 4 was allegedly hit by two Michigan state troopers during a chase on the city’s northeast side. The impact of the crash pushed him into a pedestrian who was also killed, then into a pole, according to one eyewitness.

Bukowski said that she was arrested as she stood photographing the scene of the crash, an officer seized her camera and erased pictures. At a preliminary hearing in front of 36th District Court Judge Beverly Hayes-Sipes in December, three of the five charges against Bukowski were dismissed. “The case at bar raises important issues, including whether the First Amendment rights to freedom of the press are being abridged by a prosecution that is pursued for retaliatory or other improper purpose,” the Michigan ACLU wrote in its brief in support of Bukowski’s motion that the charges against her be dismissed.

The ACLU wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court has explicitly acknowledged the important role played by the press in serving as a check against abuse of power by the police and prosecutors.

The charges against Bukowski are particularly troublesome, the group wrote, because of her “long, distinguished history of exposing government irregularities and corruption.” The ACLU noted that Bukowski has reported on allegations of illegal strip and cavity searches by police in southwest Detroit and the refusal of Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to prosecute police involved in killings.

“ [T]he danger is real that any ruling or verdict by the 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 group wrote. “These suspicions can be bolstered by questions about why the defendant is being prosecuted zealously given the absence of allegations that any real harm in the way of physical injuries or property damage resulted from her actions. Such perceptions and questions can chill journalist’s aggressive pursuit of information that the Constitution’s framers believed was essential to a healthy democracy.”

A spokeswoman for Prosecutor Kym Worthy denied the charges were retaliation against Bukowksi. “We do not bring cases to retaliate,” said Maria Miller, spokeswoman and assistant prosecutor for Wayne County. “Her case was charged and is being prosecuted because we believe we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt the charge in this particular case.” Miller declined to answer further questions.

A motion to dismiss the remaining charges against Bukowski will be heard by Judge Michael Hathaway on Feb. 20 at 9 a.m. A trial date for the case has been set for April 27. “We are hoping for dismissal,” Bukowski told Michigan Messenger, “but my attorney said he is prepared to go to trail. There is no evidence to back up their charges.” She added that video from a news team and numerous eyewitness accounts support her innocence.

Supporters have formed the Committee to Support Diane Bukowski and Freedom of the Press to draw attention to the case. The groups members include state Rep. Lamar Lemmons Jr. (D-Detroit), Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, Michigan Citizen publisher Catherine Kelley, several union locals and dozens of civil rights activists and community groups.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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