Evidence against Justin Bieber photographer strong, prosecutor says
Los Angeles prosecutors said they have ample evidence to show a photographer charged under the state's new anti-paparazzi law with pursuing Justin Bieber on the 101 Freeway is guilty.
Paul Raef, 30, a freelance photographer, was charged with reckless driving, failing to obey the lawful order of a peace officer and two counts of following another vehicle too closely and reckless driving with the intent to capture pictures for commercial gain.
Raef faces up to one year in county jail and fines totaling $3,500.
The Los Angeles City Attorney's office "believes that the CHP reports and other witness statements contain sufficient evidence to support the charges," said prosecutor William Carter. "We're prepared to try the case in court and let a jury decide the validity of the charges."
But Raef's attorney, Dmitry Gorin, said his client will fight the charges and plead not guilty at his next court appearance.
"According to media reports, in his 911 radio call, Mr. Bieber specifically denies that it was a Toyota RAV4 that was following him, nor does he specifically identify Mr. Raef," Gorin said. "It does not appear that investigating officers ever personally observed Mr. Raef driving recklessly nor following Mr. Bieber."
He went on to say that, under the law, a misdemeanor offense must be personally observed by a police officer or the charges must be dismissed.
Gorin said a double standard seems to be being applied to Raef when compared with Bieber, who was driving a Fisker sports car.
"Mr. Bieber was not cited for reckless driving, but was simply cited for speeding, driving 80 miles per hour. While being cited, Mr. Bieber blamed photographers for his own driving pattern on a public highway," Gorin said.
"It is not clear from the media reports why Mr. Bieber was not charged for reckless driving by prosecutors, when former police officer and Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine reported on a 911 call that Mr. Bieber’s driving was reckless and dangerous," Gorin said.
Zine told The Times that he witnessed the pursuit by several photographers and that Bieber was zooming in and out of traffic like he was slot car racing. Zine, a retired veteran Los Angeles police traffic officer, said he would have arrested Bieber on suspicion of reckless driving.
Gorin said he is looking forward to receiving all police investigation reports and recordings and plans if necessary to challenge the constitutionality of the statute as a violation of the 1st Amendment.
The new law imposes stiffer penalties — including possible jail time — for photographers who drive recklessly or block sidewalks in pursuit of celebrities and create a sense of "false imprisonment."
Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich helped craft the law, which was sponsored by Assemblywoman Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) and signed into law by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010. News organizations objected strongly, saying that laws already existed for reckless driving.
"Some artists fear there is going to be a terrible accident," Bass said at the time. "This is certainly no attempt to regulate the press."
Bieber was ticketed July 6 by the California Highway Patrol for driving in excess of 80 mph and driving recklessly on the 101. The photographer, one of several reportedly involved in the pursuit, allegedly evaded authorities after Bieber was pulled over, officials said.
About 30 minutes after Bieber was ticketed, officials said he called 911 to report he was being followed by a Toyota involved in the earlier chase. CHP officers went to a downtown Los Angeles parking garage, where they found a Toyota RAV4 with the same license plate as one of the vehicles that allegedly chased Bieber.
The license plate was used to identify Raef as the driver, officials said.
— Richard Winton
Photo: Justin Bieber catches some air while performing at the Nokia Theatre on July 17, 2010. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times