Chico State photographer avoids obstruction charges

CALIFORNIA —The Butte County District Attorney decided Sept. 17 not to pursue charges against a Chico State University student journalist for obstruction of a police officer.

Misha Osinovskiy, a photographer with the school’s student newspaper, The Orion, was arrested while photographing an undercover Alcoholic Beverage Control officer during a police crackdown of underage drinking and public intoxication near campus Labor Day weekend.

Liquor control officer Jerry Berenger took Osinovskiy into custody after he claimed six camera flashes “blinded him,” and interfered with an ensuing citation, said Mike Ramsey, Butte County District Attorney. Under California Penal Code 148, a law enforcement officer can make an arrest if someone is willfully interfering with a police officer’s duties.

The Orion staff has record of only two negatives relating to the citation Osinovskiy photographed. But after investigators examined his camera, a feature was discovered that could have caused the extra flashes, Ramsey said.

“In his [Osinovskiy] mind, he thought he had only taken two pictures and in fact it flashed six times,” Ramsey claimed.

“We made a decision [not to prosecute] after looking at all the facts surrounding the incident from both Mr. Osinovskiy and the [liquor control] officer,” Ramsey said, “and it was determined that everyone saw the same thing, but had entirely different perspectives of the situation.”

Osinovskiy’s attorney, Robert L. Marshall, said the photographer made no deliberate attempt to interfere.

“I understand Mr. Ramsey’s reason [for dropping the case],” Marshall said. “I think that he was attempting to avoid dealing with any First Amendment issues.

“I think Misha [Osinovskiy] is disappointed it went as far as it did. For a young journalist, standing up to a situation like this and holding his ground should earn him a badge of honor.”

Marshall plans to file a motion in upcoming weeks to expunge the arrest from Osinovskiy’s record.

Read previous coverage by SPLC.View The Orion online