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LAPD officers suspected of leaking Rihanna photo won't be charged

Prosecutors cite a lack of evidence that paid officers for a photo of pop star Rihanna after she had been beaten by singer Chris Brown, her boyfriend.

June 29, 2012|By Joel Rubin and Harriet Ryan, Los Angeles Times
  • Singers Rihanna and Chris Brown perform at New York City's Madison Square Garden in December 2008.
Singers Rihanna and Chris Brown perform at New York City's Madison… (Evan Agostini / Associated…)

After midnight on a quiet street in a posh Los Angeles neighborhood, one of the music world's rising stars was punching his pop singer girlfriend in the face and slamming her head against the dashboard of a rented Lamborghini. Ninety-five minutes later, a rookie police officer picked up the phone across town and called

The gossip site went on to post a picture, leaked from police evidence, showing the battered face of the victim, Rihanna. LAPD officials vowed an immediate investigation to get to the bottom of the embarrassing breach.

This spring, after three years, numerous search warrants and forensic exams of computer hard drives, phones and email accounts, Los Angeles County prosecutors quietly abandoned an attempt to bring criminal charges against officers suspected in the leak.

DOCUMENT: Rihanna leak investigation

The decision, made in March and detailed in a report recently obtained by The Times, came despite a finding by Los Angeles Police Department officials that an award-winning patrol officer was involved in the picture's sale. The department has moved to fire that officer and the rookie who called TMZ.

The district attorney's office cited a lack of evidence showing that TMZ paid the officers as an obstacle to charging them. In the leak's aftermath, there was widespread speculation in the media that the website had paid a premium for the exclusive image, with one report, noted by investigators, putting the price tag at $62,000. But searches of the officers' bank accounts turned up no evidence of a payment.

A district attorney's spokeswoman said investigators could not rule out that payments to the officers were funneled through others, but investigators were limited in how far afield they could search.

"You can't go on a fishing expedition and subpoena everybody who might be related or a friend," said spokeswoman Jane Robison.

An attorney for Blanca Lopez, 28, the officer whose phone records linked her to TMZ, declined to comment. A lawyer for the second officer, Rebecca Reyes, 39, denied selling the photo. Both women are to appear before LAPD disciplinary panels in August, where the department will argue they should lose their jobs.

Singer Chris Brown was arrested for beating Robyn Rihanna Fenty on Feb. 8, 2009. The high-profile investigation, involving two of the industry's biggest young talents on the eve of the Grammy Awards, was headquartered at the Wilshire station, where Reyes was assigned. She was a field training officer for new members of the force and had received an award for her volunteer work with youths.

It is unclear whether she had any role in Brown's case, but photos of Rihanna's injuries were left stacked on a desk where anyone in uniform in the station could see, according to the district attorney's report. Reyes acknowledged to investigators that she used her cellphone to take a picture of the top photo in the stack — the shot posted by TMZ.

She took the picture in the hours after the assault, according to the prosecutor's report, but precisely when is unknown. The beating occurred about 12:40 a.m. Less than an hour later, at 1:23 a.m., Reyes called Lopez, who was assigned to another station and shared an East L.A. home with her.

Lopez subsequently called directory assistance twice and then at 2:08 a.m. called Fox Television, which carries TMZ's broadcast, according to the D.A.'s report. After making three calls to Fox in quick succession, Lopez phoned TMZ directly at 2:15 a.m. She called back three more times, making the final call at 2:35 a.m., the report states.

TMZ could not be immediately reached for comment.

Word spread that Reyes had the photo on her phone. She told a niece and at least four colleagues other than Lopez. On Feb. 13, she forwarded the picture to two officers and her personal email account.

The image surfaced on TMZ six days later. Police officials were livid — and immediately opened an internal investigation. Commanders attended roll calls at the Wilshire division to urge officers to come forward with information. Reyes sat silently in one of the meetings, according to the report. Suspicion fell on her when a search of the station's computers showed that she had sent the image from her phone to her LAPD email account.

Investigators obtained warrants to review the women's phone and financial records and search their home, computers and Lopez's locker at work, but found no conclusive evidence. Reyes' Yahoo email account was accessed repeatedly from different computers in the two days before the photo appeared on TMZ and again the day the image was published, but the information gathered "did not reveal whether the image was opened, downloaded, or printed," according to the report.

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