When News Hits went to witness the court proceedings involving reporter Diane Bukowski at the end of February, we came away thinking things were looking pretty good for her. Although we highlighted the outpouring of community support she's received, what really had us believing her legal problems would soon end was the attitude of Judge Michael Hathaway.
With three of the five felony counts of "assaulting, battering, wounding, resisting obstructing or endangering" police officers — with each count carrying a potential prison sentence of four years — having been dismissed, Bukowski was in court again last week attempting to have the final two counts quashed. The case involves an incident that occurred in November of last year when Bukowski, a freelancer for the Michigan Citizen, showed up at the scene of an accident involving a police chase. The motorcyclist being pursued and a pedestrian both died.
Bukowski is accused of crossing a police barrier to take photos and then resisting State Police troopers after they ordered her to move. Bukowski claims to have put up no resistance, saying she never had the chance. She describes immediately being set upon by hostile officers who roughly grabbed her and took her camera, erasing photos she'd taken of the scene.
"They assaulted me, as far as I'm concerned," says Bukowski.
At the February hearing, Hathaway smacked down Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Thomas Trzcinski, who attempted to justify the police action — which could be interpreted as the illegal destruction of evidence — by saying it was an attempt to protect families of the deceased from enduring the emotional trauma of seeing grisly pictures of dead loved ones in the paper. Aside from the fact that the bodies were covered with tarps, Hathaway correctly pointed out that its not the duty of the police to act as censors. There is, after all, something called the First Amendment.
Hathaway also expressed the desire to see the matter put to rest before going to trial.
But at last week's hearing, the judge — to News Hits, at least — seemed to have jumped the fence, adopting a tone that seemed openly hostile toward Bukowski. At one point he talked about her crossing the barrier of yellow tape — still only an allegation at this point, mind you — motivated only by the desire to get sensationalized photos.
"I'm an investigative reporter," Bukowski told News Hits afterward. "I was documenting the scene." She also says she was at least 70 feet from any body.
Hathaway also made a crack about Bukowski — who contends that she's being targeted for prosecution because of previous work that was critical of both police and the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office — having an inflated opinion of her own celebrity.
While waiting for her case to be called last week, News Hits sat through another proceeding involving a gruesome killing that occurred during a drug deal gone bad. One assistant prosecutor was on duty handling the wrap-up of the case, which ended with Hathaway finding the defendant not guilty of murder.
After watching that, News Hits found it odd to see two assistant prosecutors show up to press the case against Bukowski. Whatever the reason, the effort to see her convicted doesn't exactly seem to be in proportion to the misdeeds she's accused of.
Bukowski's case will be argued before a Wayne County jury — unless something unexpected happens between now and the April 27 trial date.News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]