Singer Justin Bieber was allegedly chased on the 101 Freeway earlier this… (Jordan Strauss, Invision/AP )
A photographer who allegedly chased Justin Bieber on the 101 Freeway earlier this month will face criminal charges in the high-speed pursuit, marking the first time prosecutors have filed a case under the state's harsher anti-paparazzi law.
L.A. City Atty. Carmen Trutanich announced Wednesday that freelance photographer Paul Raef, 30, faces four misdemeanor charges in connection with the July 6 incident: reckless driving, failing to obey a peace officer, and two counts of following another vehicle too closely and reckless driving, with the intent to capture pictures for commercial gain.
If convicted, he faces up to a year in county jail and fines totaling $3,500. The criminal charges were possible under AB 2479, the 2010 law that imposed 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 signed into law by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, another paparazzi target.
The law did not pass without criticism, however, particularly from news organizations who argued that because reckless driving and trespassing were already illegal, the law threatened photographers' 1st Amendment rights.
Jody Armour, a professor at the USC Gould School of Law who is an expert on criminal defense and celebrity trials, echoed similar concerns Wednesday. He worried about a "chilling effect" Raef's case could have on other news-gathering practices — and which agencies are allowed to pursue information.
"We're giving a lot of power to the government to tell people how we can observe people in public places," Armour said. "It's easy to hate the paparazzi, but in some ways they really represent an interest other than themselves."
Frank Griffin, a veteran photographer and head of the Bauer-Griffin agency, said he doesn't believe the new case will have much effect on paparazzi behavior. Raef broke a law by driving recklessly, he alleged, adding that it doesn't matter that he's a photographer.
"You break a law, you get arrested," he said. "I just think it was rather stupid.… I don't think, for the sake of a $100 picture, that it's worth a $1,000 fine and community service."
Authorities said Raef was one of several paparazzi following the 18-year-old pop star as he drove his chrome Fisker Karma sports car through the San Fernando Valley on July 6. Several people, including L.A. Councilman Dennis Zine, called 911 to report the chase.
California Highway Patrol officers spotted Bieber and the entourage criss-crossing the freeway at speeds greater than 80 miles per hour and activated their lights for a traffic stop, according to a statement from Trutanich's office. Bieber pulled over, but a Toyota Rav 4 — later determined to be Raef's — was among the vehicles that fled the scene.
About 30 minutes after Bieber was ticketed, the statement said, he called 911 and said he was again being followed by a Toyota involved in the previous pursuit. CHP officers found a vehicle with the same license plate as the Rav 4 that allegedly chased Bieber and used it to identify Raef as the driver.
The photographer did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.
In a statement Wednesday, Trutanich said Raef's "disregard for the safety of others on the road" and criminal background were among the factors considered.
Court records show Raef had a handful of offenses in Orange and San Bernardino counties that include speeding and reckless driving. He also pleaded guilty in 2007 to receiving stolen property, a felony, and being in possession of burglary tools, and was sentenced to two years in prison.
Zine, a former Los Angeles police officer, said he applauded the decision to file charges, saying it was "about time" paparazzi were held accountable for their actions.
"It was sheer luck and the act of God that no one ended up in a crash," he said of the chase. "Hopefully this will send a message to the other paparazzi that this is not acceptable."