Malibu deputy to investigate paparazzo shooting

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The celebrity photographer was outside a Malibu home that singer Britney Spears was visiting. He was hit in the thigh with a small, plastic projectile.

By Hans Laetz/ Special to The Malibu Times

International news media are clamoring for details as the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has assigned a detective to investigate the shooting of a photographer staking out singer Britney Spears’ baby shower on Carbon Mesa Road in Malibu Saturday.

Brad Diaz, one of more than a dozen paparazzi clustered on the public road, was hit in the thigh by a small plastic projectile. Fire paramedics bandaged the wound, which a sheriff’s spokesman said, “was less than a dimple,” and took Diaz to a hospital, where he was treated and released.

Officials first said the evening incident took place at Spears’ home, but then corrected that to say it was outside a house where the pregnant celebrity frequently visits.

The sheriff’s senior media advisor, Steve Whitmore, said a Malibu/Lost Hills detective has been assigned to the case, a misdemeanor.

“It’s a legitimate complaint, and we do respond to every complaint,” Whitmore said.

But noting that there are unsolved murders also being investigated, Whitmore said the alleged shooting of the paparazzi could not be considered the department’s highest priority.

Whitmore said the incident “does not rise to the level of assault with a deadly weapon” and would not be considered a felony. Deputies are not even sure that the pellet came from a gun, he said.

“What happens if it was a pebble or a BB that was kicked up by a car?”

But the lawman said pellet guns have a maximum range of 100 yards, meaning that it could not have been fired from the house that Spears was in, which is 250 yards from the road.

Deputies said they arrived after the ambulance and other freelance photographers had left.

“We are trying to reconstruct what happened up there,” Whitmore said.

Whitmore, a civilian news media advisor to Sheriff Lee Baca, said he had received more than 20 news media calls from agencies around the world about the incident.

The co-owner of a celebrity photo agency, Frank Griffith, discounted any possibility that another paparazzi shot a potential competitor.

“Any photographer that would be caught with a weapon would be treated most severely by law enforcement,” he said.

Saturday’s incident comes amidst escalating tensions between celebrity photographers and stars. Earlier this year, actress Lindsay Lohan escaped injury when her car was struck by a pursuing freelancer, and two photographers were sentenced to jail for aggressively pursuing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and wife Maria Shriver in Santa Monica.

Meanwhile, locals weighed in on the issue of what some call paparazzi-celebrity stalkers.

“Those men are involved in an invasion of people’s privacy,” said Marty Grebb Tuesday at a local Starbucks at Trancas, where photographers are known to hang out looking for their prey. “It is stalking in a way.

“Those guys are just preying on other people to earn their living,” he added.

Malibu resident Pamela Rose has had first-hand experience with celebrity photographers.

“It is a real problem, particularly down at Cross Creek. Down there, the paparazzi have just [become] so obnoxious,” Rose said. “There was one guy in a white van who was taking pictures of my friend, and he was just so obnoxious. They are nasty and offensive, and definitely predatory.”

However, Rose said she doesn’t advocate the violence.

“I don’t think he [Diaz] should have been shot,” she said, “but that is what happens when you repeatedly and repeatedly push people. I mean, this was her baby shower, her baby shower! That’s the definition of a private moment.”

Griffin said he had just left the roadside photographers when the shooting reportedly occurred, and that the paparazzi were not trespassing.

“Yeah, there were too many and yes, they can become tedious,” he said. But that doesn’t justify shooting at them.

The photo agency owner expressed shock that deputies were treating the shooting incident as a small crime.

“Was this a misdemeanor because it was a BB gun, or is it a misdemeanor because it was a paparazzo?” he asked.