Judge Examines LAPD Officer Tied to Leak of Rihanna Beat-Up Photo (Exclusive)
The LAPD spent years investigating who leaked the image to TMZ. One former police officer is now paying the price.
A reprieve appears unlikely for former LAPD officer Rebecca Reyes, who in 2009 snapped the infamous photo of singer Rihanna's beat-up face on her personal cell phone.
It was the stunning visual that catapulted the actions of Rihanna's then boyfriend Chris Brown into the spotlight five years ago, and soon after TMZ featured the image, LAPD brass was determined to figure out who in their ranks had given them a black eye by leaking the photo to the tabloid news outlet.
Later, Reyes was found guilty of multiple counts of misconduct at an administrative hearing, and while she escaped criminal prosecution, the LAPD removed from its force an officer who was was once given an award by former LAPD Commissioner William Bratton.
Reyes wasn't going out without a fight.
She then filed a lawsuit seeking a writ of mandate ordering the City of Los Angeles and Police Chief Charles Beck to set aside a final order upholding the decision terminating her employment.
The case landed at the chambers of Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin, who in advance of a hearing on Thursday, has issued a tentative ruling denying Reyes' writ. In doing so, the judge reveals details about what happened after police were called to the crime scene.
According to the administrative record as laid out in the judge's tentative ruling, around midnight on February 8, 2009, two LAPD officers from the Wilshire Division responded to a radio call reporting a woman screaming on June Street. By the time they arrived, a man (presumably Brown) had fled the scene. Rihanna was interviewed and one of the officers took 33 photographs of her injuries. The singer requested the LAPD investigation remain confidential.
Later, the Wilshire Division’s watch commander requested that the photographs be printed. The images were downloaded and transferred to a compact disc. They were then sent to an LAPD sergeant, who looked at them and then gave them back to one of the crime scene officers to write a report.
As for Reyes, she was assigned to the team responsible for arresting Brown. She viewed the photographs that had been taken, and using her cell phone, took two photographs of the ones that had been printed. She knew it was against LAPD policy to use her personal phone to photograph evidence, but she explained at a hearing that she took the photographs because she was “star-struck” and wanted to show the other officers working different shifts. Thereafter, she showed the photo to her niece, a student worker, two other LAPD officers and also sent it to her personal email address.
The morning after the Brown-Rihanna incident, Reyes had numerous phone conversations with LAPD officer Blanca Lopez, with whom she had previously been in a relationship.
During the time that the two were exchanging calls, Lopez called several media outlets including TMZ. Lopez attempted to explain that her only purpose in calling TMZ was to determine whether Reyes was exaggerating her description of the Brown-Rihanna incident, but the judge says that "defies logic," that the police board couldn't "imagine a situation where a law enforcement officer would call a media outlet to verify a news story that was already, quote, 'the buzz' at" the local precincts."
Nevertheless, Reyes testified that she never told Lopez about the Rihanna photos. She did admit during the course of the investigation that she told Lopez “she was in trouble because of a picture that she had on her phone that TMZ aired.” Lopez testified that Reyes never showed her the photographs.
On February 19, 11 days after the Brown-Rihanna incident, the LAPD discovered that the Rihanna photograph had been released to TMZ.
The following day, during a roll call, a Wilshire Division captain told officers in the division to come forward if they knew who took or released the photo. No one appears to have come forward, but one of the officers who had been sent the photo approached Reyes and said something to the effect of “How much did you get for it?”
Five days later, LAPD brass was still looking for the leaker, and at another roll call, a captain again requested that officers step forward with any information. Reyes was present. She didn't do anything.
Four months went by, and eventually, the LAPD served search warrants on Reyes' residence, TMZ, Fox Television and Reyes' bank account. The search didn't reveal anything definitively connecting her to the TMZ leak. She was then interviewed by LAPD Internal Affairs. Reyes admitted she had forwarded the photograph to several people. She denied leaking it to TMZ.
She later appeared before a police board, which determined that the evidence built a "very strong circumstantial case" that she participated in the Rihanna photo leak. The fact that the photo was identical and that she and Lopez had spoken an "astounding 51 times" during the day in question, including immediately before, during, and after Lopez's attempts to contact TMZ, was deemed too suspicious. Also, TMZ had reported that the photograph originated from a law enforcement source.
For misconduct including breaching a victim's confidentiality and illegally disseminating evidence, Reyes was discharged.
In her lawsuit, she challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the police board's specific findings that she had participated in the release of an evidentiary photograph to a news media.
In his tentative denial of the writ of mandate, Judge Lavin says the weight of the evidence supports the guilty finding. The judge writes, "After conducting an independent review of the evidence, the Court finds that Petitioner participated in the release of the photograph showing Ms. Fenty’s [Rihanna's real surname] injuries to TMZ."