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Malibu Denizens Divided on Shooting of Paparazzo

Photographers' tactics are to blame, some say. Others call the pellet gun attack excessive.

August 09, 2005|Jessica Gresko and Tonya Alanez | Times Staff Writers

It was the shot heard 'round Malibu.

Two days after a tabloid photographer was shot in the thigh with a pellet gun while staking out singer Britney Spears' baby shower, longtime residents and merchants of the Hollywood colony say they can well understand why someone might take aim at a pack of camera-toting paparazzi.

Instances of aggressive shutterbugs lurking outside cafes, charging after starlets in grocery store parking lots or smuggling tiny cameras into popular restaurants in search of celebrities have grown increasingly common.

"Your mouth just drops open, you can't believe it," florist John Cosentino said of some of the aggressive tactics he has seen.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 10, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
Photographer's injury --Articles in the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday California sections about a photographer shot by a pellet gun outside Britney Spears' baby shower in Malibu gave an incorrect time for the shooting. Paparazzo Brad Diaz was struck in the thigh at 5:50 p.m. Saturday, not 7:50 p.m.

But what residents and shop owners don't agree on is whether the photographer in Saturday's incident deserved to be shot. While the man's injuries were minor -- he was treated with a bandage -- some residents think that the firing of a pellet gun was excessive.

"I don't blame the actors for taking a swing at these guys every once in a while," said Mickey Borofsky, 70, as he sipped coffee outside the Malibu Kitchen, a local celebrity haunt. But, he said, "I don't know if it's acceptable to take a shot at them."

But elsewhere in the seaside Malibu Country Mart -- a trendy shopping plaza shown in Mel Gibson's 2004 photographer-stalker film "Paparazzi" -- some shop owners and patrons said that the photographer simply got what was coming to him.

"It's all part of the job, isn't it?" asked Hannah McMahon, 19, who was visiting Malibu with friend Aimee Parnell, also 19, from Liverpool, England. It would be different if someone had used a real gun, they said, but a pellet gun didn't seem that bad. Parnell said she has been shot with a pellet gun and it didn't seem too terrible.

Authorities have not identified a gunman, but celebrity photographers said they believed the shooting was done by a property manager and not Spears' bodyguards.

To some, Saturday's incident marked the latest altercation between subjects and photographers, and it came as the latter have escalated their tactics.

Cosentino said that up until about a year ago, photographers seemed content to snap pictures from their cars. That has changed, though, and he said that this year he has seen photographers chasing female stars on foot at least three times. Other merchants said that as a result, some stars are increasingly sending their assistants and nannies on errands to local shops.

Even non-celebrities say they've felt the eyes of the paparazzi on them more than a few times.

"You can always feel them, if you're wearing glasses or a hat," said Jency Griffin, 26, a Malibu restaurant employee. "They're looking to see if you're famous."

Some photographers have responded with outrage to the pellet-gun incident, while others have taken a more philosophical view.

E.L. Woody, a celebrity photographer and videographer who owns Paparazzi TV Inc., has characterized the incident as an "assault on the press" perpetrated by the "real" media.

"I think it was inevitable, because [the media] are working the world into a whipping frenzy about the paparazzi," Woody said. " 'Paparazzi' is a word that's been vilified. There is a lynch-mob mentality, and this is evidence of that lynch-mob mentality taking place."

But photographer Anthony Goodrich said such threats came with the territory.

"It's just like being a celebrity. When you sign up for being a celebrity, you get what comes along with it; same thing with being a paparazzi," he said. "For every action there's a reaction, so if my action is taking pictures I'd better expect a reaction. That's why I'm always on guard. You have so many people that have so many negative thoughts and reactions about paparazzi; they can't stand us, you know. Retaliation happens all the time."

A Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman described the photographer's injury as "below minor," but said a detective has been assigned to the case because of an increase in clashes between photographers and celebrities.

The photographer, Brad Diaz, was among 15 to 20 photographers waiting 200 feet from a Carbon Mesa Road home that Spears was believed to be visiting Saturday night. Diaz was struck in the thigh by a pellet at 7:50 p.m.

Diaz didn't return calls for comment Monday, but colleagues described him as a "stand-up" photographer who was simply doing his job. They said Diaz was once a San Diego firefighter who suffered an injury. After leaving the department, he turned to his hobby of photography for a living.

At least one photographer expressed shock at hearing of the incident, because, he said, photographers have traditionally gotten along well with Spears and her bodyguards.

"Britney Spears, she's usually a huge sweetheart to us," said photographer Tuan Pham. "She knows we're there, and she lives with it. Celebrities like her, when they have us around so much, they know when to come up to us and say, 'Guys, I'm having a bad day or special day and can you give us some time.'

"She's usually one of those types. That's why it's a huge shock. People like Cameron Diaz and Leonardo [DiCaprio], those are the people we have to worry about more, because they go around the law all of the time," Pham said.

Times staff writer Monte Morin contributed to this report.

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