United States

Two Lives and Justice Lost

By Bonnie Weinstein

On Election Day, November 4, 2008, Michigan Citizen Reporter Diane Bukowski was arrested while investigating an incident where the police engaged in a high-speed chase over a traffic violation (speeding) of a motorcycle that led to the deaths of the driver and a pedestrian.1

Ms. Bukowski was investigating evidence that the police violated their own regulations by engaging in a high-speed chase in a densely populated area without their lights or siren on, as many witnesses testified to.

The fact that Ms. Bukowski was, indeed, a reporter was suppressed and a motion to “preclude the defense of press privilege” from the trial was introduced by Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Trzcinski. The Judge, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Michael Hathaway, partially granted this request which blatantly violated the First Amendment. Additionally, Ms. Bukowski’s attorney was not allowed to cross-examine the two officers, Michigan State Troopers John Hetfield and James Wojton, on the legality of the chase—the whole subject of Ms. Bukowski’s investigation.

Ms. Bukowski was convicted Friday, May 1, 2009 on two felony counts of “assaulting/resisting/obstructing” state troopers. She was sentenced on June 1 to one year of probation, 200 hours of community service and more than $4,200 in fines.

The following is Ms. Bukowski’s own powerful and eloquent “statement to my dedicated, beloved supporters and the general public” upon her conviction and before her sentencing on June 1, 2009:

As many of you know, I was convicted Friday, May 1 on two felony counts of “assaulting/resisting/obstructing” state troopers. The charges related to my coverage last Election Day November 4 [2008] of a high-speed state trooper chase down E. Davison which ended with the deaths of Detroiters James Willingham, a father of ten, and Jeffery Frazier, an autistic young man beloved in his community.

I am neither dispirited nor depressed about this unjust outcome, but all the more resolved to continue the struggle against the beast that is the so-called “criminal justice” (read injustice) system in this city, county, state and country. Tens of thousands of poor defendants, who do not have my advantages, are daily railroaded into the prison system using court-appointed attorneys who frequently plead them out whether or not they committed the crime. Many are charged with crimes arising from their poverty.

…Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who knows my extensive coverage of police brutality cases and her failure to prosecute Detroit’s killer cops including Eugene Brown, brought these appalling, trumped up charges against me.

My attorney Emmett Greenwood and I were forced to fight the charges with one arm tied behind our backs, due to the actions of both Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Trzcinski and Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Michael Hathaway. Hathaway is a member of the suburban-based Irish Republican Club (not Army) and supporter of state Attorney General Mike Cox.

On April 17, as a hearing on a motion to withdraw from my case by my previous attorney Arnold Reed was being heard, a motion to “preclude the defense of press privilege” from my trial, penned by Trzcinski and approved by Worthy, was also heard. I had no idea this motion had been presented seven days earlier.

“The People request that this Court 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,” Trzcinski said in his motion, which was approved by Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

Hathaway partially granted this request, which blatantly violated the First Amendment.

He refused to adjourn the trial to deal with this new development and provide needed preparation time despite the fact that my new attorney had been on the case for only ten days. Hathaway also refused to allow Greenwood to appeal the denial of adjournment to the presiding judge of the criminal court, Judge Edward Ewell, which is standard procedure.

My jury venire [a judicial writ ordering the summoning of jurors] was not representative of a “fair cross-section of the community” as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Only two Blacks and two Detroiters were on the final jury, with probably three more Blacks in the entire venire of over 30 (for selection). Blacks represent 82.8 percent of Detroit’s population and 42 percent of Wayne County’s population according to the most recent estimates from the U.S. Census. Detroiters also represent 42 percent of the county’s population. The judge continued the trial despite the fact that a third Black juror called in the second day and said she had car trouble, although he could easily have sent a court officer to pick her up. She was instead excluded from the jury.

Recent figures compiled by the Wayne County Jury Commission show that Blacks are still averaging only about 24 percent of the total jury pools, with Detroiters at around the same rate. Those are the same figures that were in effect when Judge Deborah Thomas first began her campaign regarding the disparate racial and ethnic composition of Wayne County juries in 2004.

Hathaway allowed extensive direct testimony from the two state troopers, John Hetfield and James Wojton (both white and not from Detroit), who conducted the chase but were gone two hours before I got there. However, he did not allow my attorney to cross-examine them on the legality of the chase, which violated numerous MSP (Michigan State Police) pursuit regulations. They had no siren on, and conducted the chase in a densely populated area for a traffic violation (speeding). Several nearby schools were letting out at the time of the chase, 3:32 p.m.

The judge even cut off most of my attorney’s direct exam of me, the defendant. Trzcinski viciously attacked Willingham’s grieving sister when she took the stand to testify that I did not cross any yellow caution tapes and did not assault, resist or obstruct the officers.

The jury watched the raw footage from Fox 2 news videotape of my entire arrest three times. But as I warned my lawyers all along, these suburban juries believe the police, and not “their lying eyes.” That happened when a mostly suburban jury acquitted Trooper Jay Morningstar of murdering homeless Eric Williams in Greektown several years ago. That jury also viewed a Detroit police dashcam videotape which showed Morningstar shooting Williams, who had his pants around his ankles and was clearly disturbed, only four seconds after Morningstar exited his car. This was despite the presence of Detroit officers who knew Williams and how to handle him.

The judge informed the prosecutor and my attorney both in chambers and on the record that 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.

There were numerous other gross irregularities, which my attorneys will deal with in their appellate actions.

But I ask all of you not to lose heart. My determination to continue the struggle against the monster that is this injustice system has been greatly increased by this outcome, and I look forward to victory in the end. If anyone has questions, they can reach me at 313-205-6718 or reply to my email. THANK YOU ALL AND LOVE YOU ALL. DIANE

1 “Two lives lost after troopers ignored chase rules,” By Diane Bukowski, The Michigan Citizen, May 4, 2009