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Student journalist held for interfering with arrest

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    NMU         CALIFORNIA         Newsgathering         Sep 5, 2002    

Student journalist held for interfering with arrest

  • A routine citation ends in an arrest of student journalist who photographing the incident.

Police in Chico, Calif., arrested a student journalist covering Labor Day weekend events in downtown Chico for taking photographs of an officer issuing a citation, an act that ended as a charge of obstructing an officer.

Chico State University student Misha Osinovskiy, photographer for the campus newspaper The Orion, was arrested shortly after midnight on Sept. 1 by Alcoholic Beverage Control officer Jerry Berenger after his flash allegedly interfered with an ongoing arrest and an agitated detainee, said ABC spokesman Carl DeWing.

The newspaper’s Managing Editor Jen Cooper said that Osinovskiy was given an initial warning to “go away” and later threatened that he would face arrest if he took another photo, which he did. According to the official ABC report, Berenger released the detainee to another ABC officer, handcuffed Osinovskiy and transferred him into the custody of Chico police.

The photographer’s camera and film were confiscated and Osinovskiy was held in custody for several hours before he was cited and released from Butte County Jail. The camera and film were returned to The Orion later that day.

“Unfortunately this was an incident where we have an inexperienced, young photographer. He probably just didn’t recognize the situation he was putting the investigator in,” DeWing said.

Cooper disputes several of the claims made in the ABC report. According to the report, Osinovskiy was given at least three verbal warnings and took at least five to six photos, most from two to four feet away.

Cooper describes the ABC report as “exaggerated,” in particular the number of shots taken and the size of the gathering crowd that the ABC officer said was forming.

“I have two negatives [of the officer and detainee] both of which the officer is shining his light in the camera,” she said.

Berenger feared that a crowd gathering around the scene, estimated at 100 people, would form into a dangerous situation, said DeWing.

Cooper described the estimate as “absurd.” Her staff told her that there were as many law enforcement officers as students in downtown Chico that night.

DeWing also said that Berger is an undercover officer and was concerned that his presence in photos would disclose his identity while participating in undercover assignments. That night Berenger was in plainclothes, driving an unmarked car and wearing his badge, he said.

Osinovskiy did not immediately identify himself as a media photographer but did prior to his arrest, the report said. Berenger requested identification, but Osinovskiy did not have a press pass. Cooper said the passes are currently being printed.

“We have no problems with people taking pictures of our officers,” DeWing said. “We want people to know what we do and why we do it.”

“When it becomes an enforcement problem, inciting some of the people, then it becomes a problem for the officer,” DeWing added.

The Orion staff is currently waiting for a response from District Attorney Mike Ramsey and has contacted several media advocacy organizations for assistance. Cooper is “confident and hopeful” that the charges will be dropped. Osinovskiy is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 20.

“Honestly, it scares me,” Cooper said. “You have a student journalist who doesn’t have a lot of experience, obviously, and the biggest thing is the chilling effect. I don’t think we should stop doing our job because if we do that, the students will suffer.”


© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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