LAPD tries to fire cops thought to have leaked Rihanna photo to TMZ
The officers are set to appear before the LAPD’s disciplinary panels in August.
Although they may lose their jobs, the officers suspected in the leak will not face criminal charges. This spring, after three years, numerous search warrants and forensic exams of computer hard drives, phones and email accounts, Los Angeles County prosecutors quietly cited a lack of evidence showing that TMZ paid the officers as an obstacle to charging them.
A district attorney's spokeswoman said investigators could not rule out that payments to the officers were funneled through others, but investigators were limited in how far afield they could search.
"You can't go on a fishing expedition and subpoena everybody who might be related or a friend," said spokeswoman Jane Robison.
An attorney for Blanca Lopez, 28, the officer whose phone records linked her to TMZ, declined to comment. A lawyer for the second officer, Rebecca Reyes, 39, denied selling the photo. The officers were placed on paid leave for more than two years and later were relieved of duty without pay as the investigation dragged on.
Singer Chris Brown was arrested on suspicion of beating Robyn Rihanna Fenty on Feb. 8, 2009, police said. The high-profile investigation involved two of the industry's biggest young talents on the eve of the Grammy Awards. By the time the inquiry into the leak was completed, Brown had already pleaded guilty in the case and was in the third year of a five-year probation sentence. Asked about the unusually slow pace, the district attorney's spokeswoman cited a lengthy back-and-forth between the LAPD's investigators and the deputy district attorney assigned to the case over what evidence the police should gather.
The beating occurred about 12:40 a.m. Less than an hour later, at 1:23 a.m., Reyes called Lopez, who was assigned to another station and shared an East L.A. home with her.
Lopez subsequently called directory assistance twice and then at 2:08 a.m. called Fox Television, which carries TMZ's broadcast, according to the D.A.'s report. After making three calls to Fox in quick succession, the report says, Lopez phoned TMZ directly at 2:15 a.m. She called back three more times, making the final call at 2:35 a.m., the report states.
Word spread that Reyes had the photo on her phone. She told a niece and at least four colleagues other than Lopez. On Feb. 13, she forwarded the picture to two officers and her personal email account, the D.A.'s report said.
The image surfaced on TMZ six days later. Investigators obtained warrants to review the women's phone and financial records and search their home, computers and Lopez's locker at work, but found no conclusive evidence. Reyes' Yahoo email account was accessed repeatedly from different computers in the two days before the photo appeared on TMZ and again the day the image was published, but the information gathered "did not reveal whether the image was opened, downloaded, or printed," according to the report.
Lopez did not speak with investigators, but Reyes gave a statement, admitting to taking the photo. Her attorney, Ira Salzman, said the LAPD's internal probe, which has a lower standard for proof, concluded that Reyes sold the picture. He conceded that she showed "poor judgment," but insisted that she never profited from the photo. He refused to detail what she and Lopez talked about on the phone before the calls to TMZ.
In addition to the lack of a money trail, there was no direct evidence that the officers provided the photo to the tabloid and other officers had access to it. "Although both Reyes' and Lopez's actions are suspicious, they are insufficient to support a criminal prosecution," wrote Deputy Dist. Atty. Amy Pellman Pentz.
Three other officers, including the two who received the photo from Reyes, have been disciplined by the LAPD, a police spokesperson said.
-- Harriet Ryan and Joel Rubin
Photo: Singers Rihanna and Chris Brown attend the 2009 Grammy salute to industry icons honoring Clive Davis at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Feb. 7, 2009, in Beverly Hills. Credit: Rick Diamond / WireImage