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2 LAPD officers placed on paid leave as part of Rihanna photo investigation

The probe focuses on how a photograph showing the singer's battered face appeared on a celebrity website after she was assaulted by former boyfriend Chris Brown.

September 12, 2009|Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton

Two Los Angeles police officers have been placed on paid leave as part of an ongoing investigation into how a photo showing the battered face of Rihanna appeared on a celebrity website after the singer was assaulted by former boyfriend Chris Brown, according to four law enforcement sources familiar with the case.

The night before the Grammy Awards in February, Rihanna argued with Brown, who bit, punched and choked her in a rented Lamborghini in the Hancock Park area of Los Angeles, leaving her bruised and bloodied, police said. Two weeks later, a photo of Rihanna that showed those injuries appeared on the entertainment gossip website TMZ.com.

The sources confirmed this week that the investigation is focused on at least two officers.

One of the officers, identified by sources as Rebecca M. Reyes, is a nine-year department veteran who was last assigned to the Wilshire Division. Her attorney told The Times that a search warrant in connection with the leak investigation had been served on her Los Angeles home.

The other officer, Blanca Lopez, is a rookie in the Hollenbeck Division and was a housemate of Reyes, according to sources.

Both have been "assigned to home" pending the outcome of the probe, according to the sources who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about it.

Attorney Ira Salzman, who is representing Reyes, confirmed that the LAPD had assigned his client to home during the investigation but added that Reyes had done nothing illegal and that department officials had not yet presented any formal allegations against her.

Salzman, who described his client as a decorated officer, would not comment on whether Reyes had taken the picture of Rihanna or had at any time possessed it.

"My client did not do anything for financial gain," Salzman said. "She did not sell the photo."

Robert Rico, the attorney for Lopez, declined to comment on the investigation.

LAPD officials also declined to discuss the probe, including who took the photograph, how it came into the possession of TMZ.com and how much, if any, money may have been paid to the officers or associates for the image. Also unclear was whether the image posted on the site was taken from a personal phone or with department-issued photographic equipment.

An LAPD spokesman, Lt. John Romero, described the investigation as a "personnel matter" and said that "we are investigating vigorously." Romero said the department would not comment on whether any officers have been assigned to home.

State law that took effect this year makes it a misdemeanor for peace officers or law enforcement employees to profit by leaking confidential reports or images.

In addition, the LAPD has adopted strict rules about recording still or video images at crime scenes. The rules were toughened last year after a series of celebrity-related arrests in which details, and even images, appeared on celebrity and gossip websites.

Donald Etra, the attorney for Rihanna -- whose real name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty -- said he was pleased that police had gotten to the bottom of the case. He added that no victim should have to worry about such photographs being leaked. He also said his client had "nothing but praise for the LAPD."

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andrew.blankstein @latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

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