Justin Bieber: Paparazzo in chase first to face charges under law
A paparazzo who allegedly pursued teen pop star Justin Bieber in a high-speed chase along the 101 Freeway will face criminal charges, the L.A. city attorney's office announced Wednesday, marking the first case filed under the state's harsher anti-paparazzi law.
Paul Raef, 30, a freelance photographer, was charged with reckless driving, failing to obey the lawful order of a peace officer, two counts of following another vehicle too closely and reckless driving with the intent to capture pictures for commercial gain, City Atty. Carmen Trutanich said in a statement.
Raef faces up to one year in county jail and fines totaling $3,500, Trutanich said. He is scheduled to appear in court Aug. 9.
The law, A.B. 2479, 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."
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 exist 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 California Highway Patrol for driving in excess of 80 mph and driving recklessly on the 101 Freeway. The photographer, one of several in the pursuit, evaded authorities after Bieber was pulled over.
About 30 minutes after Bieber was ticketed, officials said he called 911 and said he was being followed by a Toyota involved in the earlier chase. CHP officers responded to a downtown Los Angeles parking garage, where they found a Toyota Rav 4 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.
Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine, who called 911 to report the incident, said he saw paparazzi pursuing Bieber. The councilman said he understands the problems celebrities have with some paparazzi, but said that's no excuse for unsafe driving.
"Any time you do 90, the paparazzi are going to go 90," Zine said. "He was going from the fast lane to the slow lane to the shoulder in traffic. It was a very dangerous driving situation. I figured someone was going to crash, so I called 911."
— Kate Mather and Richard Winton
Photo: Justin Bieber catches some air while performing at the Nokia Theatre on July 17, 2010. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times