AFTER MULLING IT over for nearly a year, the California Attorney General's office has decided not to prosecute Pulitzer Prize-winning publisher Dave Mitchell over an incident he and the whole town of Point Reyes Station, Calif., would just as soon forget.
In September 1994, Mitchell recalls, a state Highway Patrolman knocked him to the ground, shoved his face in the dirt and handcuffed him while he was trying to shoot pictures of a horror movie being filmed at a local school yard. Mitchell, editor and publisher of the weekly Point Reyes Light in Marin County, was charged with obstructing an officer, a misdemeanor.
The newsman said he was driving his wife Cynthia back from San Francisco, after her foot surgery, when he noticed California Highway Patrolmen (CHP) blocking off the road adjacent to the elementary school, where director John Carpenter was filming a scene in the picture Village of the Damned for Universal Pictures.
"It was quite a scene," Mitchell said. "School kids were being used as extras in the movie and a lot of them were lying on the ground in the yard as if they were dead."
Mitchell, who always carries a camera in his car, began pumping the shutter from just outside a fence surrounding the school. As Mitchell recollects, an assistant director rushed over, yelling that it was a closed set. He then pushed his hand in front of the lens and when that failed, took a swing at him despite the fact that Mitchell had identified himself and his paper.
When Mitchell ducked the punch, he said, the director summoned the patrolman who was working off-duty for the studio.
"Thank God, I thought to myself," Mitchell recounted. "The cops would come over and I could explain the situation. But before I could say anything, one of them got me in an armlock and forced me to the ground. A few seconds later, I was handcuffed and put in a patrol car."
During the struggle, the journalist said, his 35 mm camera was knocked to the ground and damaged but not so badly that Cynthia couldn't retrieve it and begin shooting frames of her husband being arrested.
"There she was, limping around on her bad foot but working away," Mitchell said.
That picture and another of assistant director Chris Della Penna's hand in Mitchell's face made the front page of the Light with a story headed: "Small conflicts plague movie making here."
Mitchell said he was saved from going to jail when a deputy sheriff who knew him came along and told the CHP officers he would not lock him up. Subsequently, the Marin County D.A. office refused to prosecute, bucking the case to the state attorney general.
Mitchell said the police accused him of touching an officer during the melee.
"I had both hands on the camera and could not possibly have touched him," said Mitchell who, with his former wife Cathy, won the 1979 Pulitzer's Meritorious Public Service award for the Light's investigation of Synanon.
Support for the publisher came quickly from the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the California First Amendment Coalition, whose director, Terry Francke, wrote the CHP and the Marin district attorney, informing them that state law permits journalists to be on school property for news gathering, and that Mitchell was further protected in this capacity by the First Amendment.
? The Attorney General dropped the charges.
? Movie company officials apologized to Mitchell and said Della Penna had been reprimanded.
? Mitchell, in turn, dropped his big-bucks lawsuit against the CHP.
"There's no doubt in my mind we would have won," he told E&P.
Recently, the citizens of tiny Point Reyes Station voted to turn down Disney Studio's request to shoot a major movie there, starring John Travolta.
?(Dave Mitchell) [Photo]
By: M.L. Stein Arrest stemmed from his photographing a movie being filmed sp.