Paparazzi create an ‘unsafe situation’ at schools, Malibu principal says

The Los Angeles Regional Paparazzi Task Force, consisting of officials from several local cities, representatives from law enforcement, an executive from the Screen Actors Guild and a legal scholar from Pepperdine University, as well as Malibu Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich, met in Malibu last week to discuss ways to enforce existing laws to prevent the harassment by paparazzi. Photo by Nora Fleming / TMT

Paparazzi task force recommends using a “citizen’s guide” that highlights existing laws to ward off harassment by celebrity photographers.

By Nora Fleming / Special to The Malibu Times

Parents and education officials speaking at the Los Angeles Regional Paparazzi Task Force meeting last Thursday evening at the Malibu Performing Arts Center told stories of eager photographers encroaching on local schools to snap shots of celebrities and their children. They called the situation a security risk.

Members of the task force, headed by Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine, encouraged local law enforcement to monitor area schools more stringently and to shorten response time because many photographers often flee when law enforcement is called.

The task force consists of officials from several local cities, representatives from law enforcement, an executive from the Screen Actors Guild and a legal scholar from Pepperdine University. Malibu Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich, who sits on the Los Angeles task force, has been looking into what Malibu could do to mitigate the paparazzi problem with a city paparazzi task force.

“I really fear that one of our kids is going to get hurt,” Conley Ulich said. “If there’s anything I can do, as a mother and as the mayor, I’m going to do it, to protect my kids and all the kids in Malibu.”

Kelly Chapman Meyer, former PTA president at Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School, read the Los Angeles task force a letter from school principal Chi Kim about the increasing amount of voyeurism throughout the school day.

“The presence of paparazzi creates anxiety in our students and creates an unsafe situation,” Kim wrote. “Any parent who is faced with a stranger approaching their child goes into protection mode. It creates a level of fear in our parents and students who witness these events.”

Evan Moore, a physical education teacher at Point Dume Marine Science, recounted seeing paparazzi pressed up against the school’s perimeter fences several times a week as they attempted to take photographs of celebrities’ children or catch the parents when they arrived to pick up the students.

“The photographers know the parents’ schedules,” Moore said. “They know what time the kids arrive at school and when they leave the school, when there are half days and when parents volunteer in the classrooms. It’s very, very frustrating.”

A Point Dume Marine Science parent said his son became frightened after seeing paparazzi pursue a celebrity father and had even witnessed photographers falling from trees on stakeouts at the school.

Commander Carl Deeley of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, who sits on the task force, told school officials they should videotape aggressive photographers and record license plate numbers that could aid law officials in enforcing existing laws such as traffic violations and physical confrontations.

Zine invited representatives from Los Angeles Airport to discuss airport security in relation to paparazzi problems, in light of an incident last September at LAX between musician/producer Kanye West and paparazzi photographers.

“We respond quickly and these situations never get out of hand,” said Sgt. James Holcomb of the LAWA Airport Police. “They are there all day, every day, but are frequently not in groups. If a situation were to occur, we would stay on top of it.”

Butts added there are heavy numbers of law enforcement officials at the airport.

A “citizen’s guide,” available on Councilmember Zine’s Web site and distributed at last week’s meeting, was also discussed. The guide lists vehicle violations and public disturbances that could occur in a paparazzi situation and be cause for a call to the police. Other offenses, such as trespass, assault and battery and stalking, are also listed as reasons for contacting the police and an attorney.

Barry McDonald, an associate professor at Pepperdine University’s School of Law, presented a summary of legal research on related First Amendment court cases that could be applicable to a possible paparazzi ordinance. McDonald had compiled the information at the request of Conley Ulich.

McDonald and his associates put together several binders worth of material of history and suggestions for types of ordinances that might withstand constitutionality tests by the court. He said the ratio of the societal value of images versus the intrusion caused by capturing the images would most likely be a measure a court would examine if a new ordinance were adopted. But he emphasized that existing laws should be enforced before attempting to pass a new ordinance.

Malibu residents Skylar Peak and Philip “John” Hildebrand, who are facing misdemeanor battery charges for their alleged involvement in the June brawl with paparazzi attempting to photograph actor Matthew McConaughey, attended the meeting on Thursday. They did not speak and sat with a group of people sporting supportive T-shirts. A planned rally for Peak and Hildebrand that had been advertised on the Internet and on a local movie theater sign did not take place.