Two celebrity photographers who pursued actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, NBC News correspondent Maria Shriver, through Westside streets last May as the couple drove their son to preschool were convicted Monday on misdemeanor false imprisonment charges by a judge who branded the paparazzi's actions "outrageous."
Stressing that his verdict is not intended to inhibit news photographers from legally going about their work, Superior Court Judge Robert A. Altman nevertheless said the defendants had "crossed the legal line."
Altman said it was wrong for the photographers to have interfered with the couple outside their child's preschool May 1, 1997, and could have led to serious consequences for Schwarzenegger, who only a week before had checked out of a hospital after undergoing open-heart surgery. Shriver was five months pregnant with the couple's fourth child and had spent time in a hospital for complications.
"It was clear from the get-go that Mr. Schwarzenegger and Ms. Shriver did not want to be photographed and it was clear from the get-go this was not good for Mr. Schwarzenegger's health," Altman said.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday February 4, 1998 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Metro Desk 2 inches; 51 words Type of Material: Correction
Schwarzenegger paparazzi--In Tuesday's Times, two photographers convicted of false imprisonment in their pursuit of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife were misidentified in a caption accompanying the story. Because of incorrect information provided by Reuters news service, the names of photographers Andrew O'Brien and Giles Harrison were reversed.
The judge said photographers are not guilty of false imprisonment if they momentarily stop a celebrity from leaving an event like the Academy Awards, but he took issue with those who go beyond that.
The defendants--Andrew O'Brien, 31, and Giles Harrison, 29--were each convicted on two counts of misdemeanor false imprisonment. Harrison was also convicted of reckless driving. Both men face a maximum of two years in jail on the false imprisonment counts; Harrison could receive an extra 90 days for reckless driving. The judge set sentencing for Feb. 23.
The judge acquitted the photographers of two other false imprisonment charges. Earlier Monday, he threw out battery charges against O'Brien, who was accused of bumping into an administrator at the Circle of Friends preschool in Santa Monica and attacking a Federal Express driver who intervened on behalf of Schwarzenegger and Shriver.
At the two-day nonjury trial, Schwarzenegger and Shriver provided vivid accounts of the incident, in which their Mercedes-Benz was pursued in sport utility vehicles by Harrison, who was using a video camera, and O'Brien, who was snapping still photos.
Shriver testified Monday that she was terrified by the chase and felt like a "caged animal" after her car was wedged in by the photographers' vehicles. Schwarzenegger had testified Friday that thoughts of a kidnapping attempt went through his mind.
The photographers defended their actions outside court.
"I know I didn't do it--regardless of the judge's opinion," the tall, husky Harrison said as he left the Santa Monica courthouse in a light rain.
For Shriver, a prominent TV newswoman, to accuse a video cameraman of acting illegally while working on public property, Harrison added, was "a case of the pot calling the kettle black."
O'Brien also defended his actions, but added: "I apologize [to Schwarzenegger and Shriver] for what they went through, if they were upset."
At the time of the incident, O'Brien and Harrison were working for Splash, a Santa Monica-based news and photo agency founded by veterans of London's Fleet Street newspapers. Splash provides candid stories and celebrity photos to the world's tabloid press.
The photographers had staked out a street along Sunset Boulevard and began following Shriver as she drove her husband and their son to the preschool.
Altman upbraided O'Brien for cursing and acting "like a jerk" outside the school.
Defense attorneys Charles L. Lindner and Martha A. Mansell said they planned to appeal the verdict.
"I don't think there was a crime committed," Lindner said. As for the larger issues presented in the case, he added: "I would be greatly concerned as a reporter now trying to get a story."
But Deputy City Atty. David Armstrong said anyone driving a vehicle who did what the photographers were accused of doing deserved to be convicted.
"This does not apply solely to the paparazzi," the prosecutor said.