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‘A clear-cut case of retribution’

Progressive reporter convicted of felonies

Published May 10, 2009 4:05 PM

Freelance journalist Diane Bukowski, whose byline appears frequently in The Michigan Citizen newspaper, was convicted May 1 on two felony charges stemming from her involvement as a reporter on the scene of a deadly police chase in Detroit on Nov. 4. She will be sentenced on June 1, and faces a possible four-year prison term.

From left, City Councilwoman JoAnn
Watson, David Sole, and Diane Bukowski.
WW photo: Alan Pollock

A majority-white, suburban-based jury found Bukowski guilty of two counts of “assaulting/resisting/obstructing” state police officers as she and other reporters gathered to cover a police chase that resulted in the deaths of a motorcyclist and pedestrian.

Bukowski was arrested as she attempted to photograph the grisly scene and after a state trooper yelled to her, “Who the f**k do you think you are?” Police confiscated her camera, deleted her photos and claimed Bukowski had crossed yellow crime-scene tape, which she denies.

Bukowski was originally charged with one misdemeanor count of obstructing an investigation. But Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy charged Bukowski with five felony counts that totaled a possible sentence of 20 years in prison. The prosecutor’s office later dropped three of the charges.

Bukowski and The Michigan Citizen, a Detroit-based weekly addressed to African Americans and the progressive community, have a history of successfully fighting for access to public documents from the prosecutor’s office in police brutality and murder cases. Bukowski has written dozens of stories chronicling police brutality, prosecutorial misconduct and police murders in Detroit. She is well-known in the community as a strong anti-racist fighter and reporter on issues involving foreclosures, utility shutoffs and union struggles.

The railroading of Bukowski on trumped-up charges aroused strong community support from unionists, political leaders and community organizers who formed the Committee to Defend Diane Bukowski and Freedom of the Press. Bukowski and her supporters say this is a clear-cut case of retribution by the cops and prosecutor for her role in exposing the many injustices of the criminal justice system.

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Michael Hathaway entertained a motion from Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Trzcinski to “preclude argument, the asking of questions, and the introduction of any other evidence purporting to show that defendant was acting in her capacity as a reporter during the events in question.” Hathaway partially granted the motion in what Bukowski and her supporters regard as a clear violation of the First Amendment.

Bukowski stated in a May 3 e-mail: “The judge informed the prosecutor and my attorney both in chambers and on the record that [state] trooper Eric Byerly, who erased two photos from my camera, had committed a crime and should take the Fifth Amendment. However, after Byerly nonetheless testified in detail regarding this destruction of evidence, neither the judge nor the prosecutor took the appropriate actions against him.”

“Five state troopers committed perjury on the stand in my case,” Bukowski told the audience at a May 1 forum sponsored by the Michigan Campaign for Justice. “Prosecutor Kym Worthy suborned that perjury,” she stated. Raw footage from a Fox 2 News video was shown three times to the jury; it did not show Bukowski in any manner resisting, assaulting or obstructing the police.

The Michigan statute on impeding a police investigation includes the mere “opposing” of the police as grounds for felony charges. This onerous law subjects anyone to arrest and felony charges who in any way challenges the police.

“I’m a felon now,” said Bukowski. “This is the price you pay when you stand up against such monsters.” She called for a federal investigation of the prosecutor’s office. (Michigan Messenger, May 1)

A meeting to organize further support for Bukowski and her appeal will take place May 7 at the offices of The Michigan Citizen. Every anti-racist and progressive activist in Michigan has a stake in the final outcome of this case.