Nailing down the facts in two June brawls between paparazzi and Malibu locals would seem to be as easy as a mouse click. Video and still cameras captured the beach fracases from multiple angles, and the footage was posted online for all to see.
But a month later, much remains unclear. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has not charged anyone in the incidents, and one surfer says a knife wielded by a paparazzo was edited out of the video sold to Internet gossip sites.
Meanwhile, photographers are grumbling that the lack of charges against the locals reflects Malibu's disgust with paparazzi.
"If they wanted to get them, they would have already," said Alexander DeMacedo, a freelance paparazzo who was at both incidents. "I don't think they tried hard enough."
Investigators, however, contend the case is more difficult than it seems, in part because of an initial lack of cooperation by the alleged victims.
"A lot of these people in the video, we don't know who they are, and if they don't come forward . . . how are we supposed to track them down?" said Det. Ken Baumgartner, one of two officers from the Malibu-Lost Hills Sheriff's Station assigned to the case.
He said that in recent weeks, more witnesses have talked to detectives, and he hoped to present the case to prosecutors within two weeks.
The violence near Little Dume began June 21 when a group of young men, some of them surfers, ordered a dozen photographers who were shooting actor Matthew McConaughey to leave the beach. When they refused, a fight broke out. The video shows a French photographer, Rachid Aitmbareck, being beaten in the surf. Photographers said the group also destroyed thousands of dollars of camera equipment. The next day, locals and photographers squared off again.
Skylar Peak, a surfer who photographers allege was the ring leader of the first incident, said the video online does not show what he says precipitated the fight: a paparazzo drawing a knife. "Everybody else there was acting in self-defense," he said of the locals.
Peak said the video was edited, adding, "It's important that the public know that everything they've seen comes from a tabloid."
Baumgartner said that among the dozen witnesses interviewed, only Peak said he saw a knife. A photographer who sold video of the incident denied his colleagues were armed or that he edited the tape.
"There would be no reason to have a knife," said freelancer Karl Larsen.
Aitmbareck has retained a lawyer who has been taking statements from photographers. The lawyer, Bryan Altman, declined to say whether the photographer was preparing a civil suit.
"We're hoping law enforcement does its job," he said.