Dispute over flashes lands Calif. photog in jail





CALIFORNIA ' A student journalist at Chico State University landed behind bars for simply doing his job.

Misha Osinovskiy, a photographer with the student newspaper, The Orion, was arrested during Labor Day weekend by an undercover Alcoholic Beverage Control officer while photographing him giving a citation. Osinovskiy and another reporter were covering a police crackdown on public intoxication and underage drinking near campus.

Osinovskiy was charged with obstruction of a police officer, after the undercover officer, Jerry Berenger, said he was blinded by the student's camera flashes. Osinovskiy was detained in the Butte County Jail for five hours, and his camera and film were confiscated and returned later.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey later decided not to pursue the charges because no evidence of intentional obstruction could be found. The charge could have carried a maximum penalty of $1,000 and a year in county jail.

'It was determined that everyone saw the same thing but had entirely different perspectives of the situation,' Ramsey said.

Alcoholic Beverage Control officials claimed Osinovskiy took five pictures within a couple of feet of the officer and was warned three times to stop. Osinovskiy contends he heard only one warning before he took his final shot, at which time he was handcuffed. The Orion found evidence of only two negatives that were both taken from a car-length distance away.

Osinovskiy's attorney, Robert Marshall, later resolved the discrepancy over the number of photographs taken. After a police investigator and he inspected the camera, Marshall discovered a feature that could have caused the flash to go off more than the two times Osinovskiy snapped a picture.

Marshall said the student made no deliberate attempt to interfere with Berenger. He said he believes Ramsey agreed in order to avoid dealing with any First Amendment issues.

Osinovskiy, whose arrest record is expected to be expunged, remains adamant of his right to photograph police activity.

'[Berenger] saw I was young and took advantage. This doesn't change anything,' he said.


reports, Winter 2002-03