A paparazzo photographer faces criminal charges in connection with a high-speed chase of Justin Bieber earlier this month, marking the first use of a new state law designed to clamp down on photographers’ reckless pursuit of celebrities.
The City Attorney’s office on Wednesday filed four misdemeanor charges against Paul Raef, 30, including reckless driving with the intent to capture pictures for commercial gain, reckless driving, failure to obey a peace officer and following another vehicle too closely.
Raef could not immediately be located for comment.
He is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 9. If convicted, he faces up to one year in county jail and $3,500 in fines.
Bieber’s publicist did not respond to phone and email messages.
The charges stem from a July 6 incident in which Los Angeles Councilman Dennis Zine, a former police officer, and three other motorists called 911 to report a high speed chase along the 101 Freeway in the San Fernando Valley.
Prosecutors said responding officers saw a pack of six vehicles pursuing a silver Fisker Karma, a high-end sports car, which turned out to be driven by Bieber.
A Toyota SUV owned by Raef was seen traveling at speeds well over 80 miles an hour across all lanes of the freeway and on the shoulder, as well as forcing its way into lanes when it had no room to merge safely.
Authorities said motorists were forced to brake and swerve to avoid colliding with Raef’s vehicle and the others.
Bieber pulled over when officers signaled him to do so, but Raef’s vehicle did not stop.
Bieber was cited for speeding and released.
Prosecutors said that about 30 minutes later, Bieber called 911 and said he was again being followed by the same Toyota.
California Highway Patrol officers arrived at a downtown Los Angeles parking garage, where other paparazzi had congregated, and found the Toyota with the same license plate as the one that had chased the singer.
Officers identified Raef as the driver.
Paparazzi pursuit of celebrities has long been identified as a risk in Los Angeles.
“It’s Hollywood. There are a huge number of celebrities and there’s a lot of money paid for these pictures,” said attorney Harland Braun, who has defended cases involving paparazzi and who said he has had to fend off photographers chasing his celebrity clients.
“Unfortunately, innocent people get caught up in these chases,” he said. “I think the law is a good thing.”
City attorney spokesman Frank Mateljan said the Raef case meets all the criteria spelled out in the law.
“We’re very confident in our case,” he said.
Although Bieber ended up with a speeding ticket, Mateljan said he has cooperated with authorities investigating the case.
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