CALIFORNIA – A Chico State University student journalistlanded behind bars Labor Day weekend after photographing an undercoverpolice officer giving a citation.
Misha Osinovskiy, a photographer for The Orion, wason assignment taking pictures of officers making alcohol-relatedarrests near campus Aug. 31 and into the early morning of Sept.1. The police were cracking down on public intoxication and underagedrinking during one of the biggest party weekends of the schoolyear.
"[The officers] didn’t mind us being around. They werejoking with [the reporter and me]," Osinovskiy said. When hecame across Alcoholic Beverage Control officer Jerry Berengerciting a student, the reception was far more chilled. Berenger,under the guise of a Harley-Davidson T-shirt, arrested Osinovskiyon suspicion of obstructing an officer after he took picturesof the ensuing police action.
Osinovskiy said, as he positioned himself on the other sideof a nearby pickup truck and took his first photograph, Berengershone a flashlight on him.
"[Berenger] told me, ‘You need to go. If you take anotherphoto, I’m going to take you to jail.’ I figured one more [picture]wouldn’t hurt," Osinovskiy said. Immediately after Osinovskiytook the second shot, Berenger dropped what he was doing, handcuffedhim and confiscated his camera and film.
"[Berenger] said he was concerned about his identificationand, if his picture got published, there would be people who wouldwant to kill him," Osinovskiy said.
Jerry R. Jolly, acting director of the California Departmentof Alcoholic Beverage Control, said Osinovskiy, more importantly,was getting in the way of the citation because the camera flasheswere "blinding the officer and the suspect was becoming agitated."The department claims Osinovskiy was within a couple feet of theofficer and took at least five photographs, although The Orionshows record of only two negatives that were both taken from acar-length distance away. According to Jolly, Berenger was concernedabout the growing unrest of the onlooking crowd, but Osinovskiysaid at the time of his handcuffing few people were in close proximity.Jolly also emphasized Osinovskiy did not have the proper presscredentials and did not identify himself until after his arrest.
Dave Waddell, Chico State advisor to The Orion, saidthe lack of press credentials should not have made a difference."A cop can’t tell a journalist or anyone not to take a photoin public," he said. Osinovskiy told officers that undersection 409.5 of the California Penal Code he was allowed to shootin any public place unless it is a crime scene. "Misha actedappropriately and knew the law," Waddell said. "Thefact he was a student was the heart of what happened. A photographerfrom a professional newspaper wouldn’t be arrested."
Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey has not approvedcharges and could not comment on case.
Osinovskiy spent more than five hours in Butte County Jailin Oroville before being released at 5:30 a.m. He said he was never readhis rights, and upon inquiring why he was arrested, he said anofficer told him "for lying to an officer" or, as hiscitation indicates for falsely representing himself under section148.9 of the penal code. Jolly said the discrepency of chargeswas a clerical error and in fact he was arrested under 148 ofthe penal code for resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer.This charge carries a maximum penalty of $1,000 and/or a yearin a county jail.
Osinovskiy’s court date is set for Sept. 20. Waddell is workingto have the charges dropped and Osinovskiy’s arrest record expunged.
Meanwhile for Osinovskiy, it is back to business as usual. After regaininghis camera the evening of his release, he was out taking additionalphotographs of student arrests. "[Berenger] saw that I wasyoung and took advantage . … This doesn’t change anything,"he said.