Reporter Convicted of Felonies, Violating First Amendment

 

Diane Bukowski, a long-time photojournalist with the Detroit-based, Black-owned Michigan Citizen newspaper, was convicted May 1 of two felony counts involving “assaulting, battering, wounding, resisting, obstructing, or endangering” police. Each count carries a maximum of two years in prison.

Bukowski’s sentencing is set for Monday, June 1, 2009 at 9 a.m. in front of Judge Michael Hathaway, Room 501, Wayne County Circuit Court, 1441 St. Antoine (at Gratiot), Detroit, Michigan 48226.

Her case is part of growing attacks on reporters and the First Amendment in the U.S. Bukowski was arrested last Nov. 4 by Michigan State Troopers while taking photos at the scene of a high-speed police chase on Detroit’s east side. The chase ended with the deaths of motorcyclist James Willingham, 41, a father of 10, and pedestrian Jeffery Frazier, 34, a beloved member of the community.

Troopers John Hetfield and James Wojton violated MSP vehicle pursuit rules. Their siren was not on.They chased Willingham for a traffic offense (speeding) through a densely populated and trafficked area at 3:30 p.m. as three nearby schools were letting out. The troopers have not been disciplined or charged.

Troopers Andrea Barber, Matthew Kellar and Eric Byerly arrested Bukowski 2 ½ half hours after the chase shortly after she arrived on the scene. Byerly admitted destroying evidence, a felony, by erasing Bukowski’s photos. He has not been charged.

Instead, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy charged Bukowki with five felonies. Bukowski is well-known for her coverage of unjustified killings, rapes and brutality by police and troopers, and Worthy’s failure to prosecute Detroit police for these offenses.

Three counts were dismissed at her preliminary exam. But, after a five-day trial in front of a predominatly suburban jury, Bukowski was convicted of the remaining two counts. The prosecution earlier moved to keep her role as a reporter and the issue of the First Amendment out of the trial.

The jury saw Fox 2 News’ raw footage of Bukowski’s arrest from beginning to end. It showed none of the alleged offenses. The prosecutor focused solely on false allegations that Bukowski crossed a yellow caution tape. She was 70 feet from any evidence including yellow tarps covering Willingham’s dismembered body as she took the photos.

To support Bukowski:

1. Send letters to
Judge Hathaway
c/o Attorney John Royal,
415 Griswold, Ste. 1724,
Detroit MI 48226.

Letters should focus on Bukowski’s accomplishments in the community, not her guilt or innocence. Royal and his co-counsel Attorney Sharon McPhail are handling her appeals.

2. Attend the sentencing June 1.

3. Contribute to
The Committee to Defend Diane Bukowski and Freedom of the Press
c/o The Michigan Citizen,
1055 Trumbull,
Detroit, MI 48216.

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