DOCUMENT: Celebrity, Investigation, Crime

Target Worked Rihanna Case

LAPD cop was assigned to Chris Brown assault detail

Rebecca Reyes & Bill Bratton

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LAPD Leak Target Worked Rihanna Case

SEPTEMBER 15--One of the Los Angeles cops being investigated for illegally leaking--and most likely selling--a graphic evidence photo showing injuries sustained by the singer Rihanna during a domestic violence assault was part of the initial police detail assigned to work the case, and was even dispatched to arrest singer/suspect Chris Brown following the attack, The Smoking Gun has learned.

Los Angeles Police Department records reveal that Officer Rebecca Reyes was assigned to the assault case soon after a 911 caller reported hearing a woman screaming for help in L.A.'s Hancock Park neighborhood. When cops responded to that February 8 call, Rihanna, whose full name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty, said that she was beaten by Brown, then her boyfriend.

The original LAPD report on the Rihanna assault notes that Reyes and several colleagues, including Sergeant Omar Bazulto, were dispatched to the London Hotel, where Brown was believed to have gone after the incident. Brown, who was not actually at the West Hollywood hotel, was arrested later that night after surrendering to cops at the Wilshire Division, the precinct where Reyes, a nine-year LAPD veteran, was last stationed.

Reyes's role at the outset of the case was detailed by two sources with knowledge of the domestic violence probe.

According to recent news reports, Reyes and a fellow cop, Blanca Lopez, have been placed on paid leave in connection with the LAPD investigation into how the photo of a battered Rihanna ended up on the gossip web site, the leading online practitioner of checkbook journalism.

As part of that probe, Reyes's home was searched by cops about two months ago, while Lopez's residence was raided within the past couple of weeks. Records indicate that, until recently, Lopez had been living with Reyes at a Hubbard Street house owned by Reyes. Lopez is a rookie cop assigned to the Hollenbeck Division.

Reyes is pictured above with LAPD Chief William Bratton at a 2003 ceremony at which she received a "Crystal Angel Award" for volunteering as a basketball coach at a YMCA. Reyes's lawyer, Ira Salzman, declined to comment on what role his client played in the early stages of the police investigation of the Rihanna assault.

In a motion filed in May, lawyer Mark Geragos, concerned that the evidence photo leak was highly prejudicial to his client Brown, asked a judge to order the release of personnel files on 25 LAPD employees who had been involved in the assault probe. The motion, an excerpt of which you'll find here, charged that the picture "was sold by an LAPD officer" to TMZ. Included in the records sought by Geragos was the personnel file for Reyes. The motion--which included Reyes's surname and her LAPD serial number (35871)--was denied by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.

The LAPD probe into the leak of the Rihanna photo began immediately after the deep-pocketed TMZ published the photo on February 19, less than two weeks after the assault. The picture was one of 33 shots taken by LAPD Officer Calvert Tooley. Those photographs recorded Rihanna's injuries, and also included shots of the vehicle in which Brown pummeled her. The pictures clearly show that Tooley took them on a Hancock Park sidewalk--in the background of some shots a light pole can be seen, while Rihanna was photographed adjacent to the rented Lamborghini Brown had been driving.

The 33 evidence photos, taken with a digital camera, were later downloaded into an LAPD computer system and assigned a roll number (C403116) for tracking purposes.

An examination of the photo posted by TMZ reveals that it is a cropped version of one of the 33 images snapped by Tooley. The TMZ photo is also of a lesser quality than the source image, which may indicate that the published photo was not a digital copy of the original evidence photo. Instead, the image provided to the gossip site may have been photographed off a computer screen with a cell phone or digital camera.

Though TMZ did not publish the evidence photo until February 19, a February 9 story cited "one of the law enforcement people" describing Rihanna's injuries in a very specific manner. Contusions on the singer's forehead made her "look like an MMA fighter or something ... [It] looked like she was growing devil's horns." The description of Rihanna's injuries--especially the devil's horn reference--mirror the actual evidence photo itself. It seems likely that one of TMZ's "law enforcement people" either possessed a copy of the photo, had reviewed LAPD evidence, or already provided/sold the image to the web site.

While TMZ has fallen silent about the LAPD probe of the evidence photo leak, the site's editor, Harvey Levin, was once happy to crow about his purchased scoop. A day after publishing the photo, Levin told Fox News host Greta Van Susteren that "we got this picture legally." He then claimed that "when we got the picture, we believed it was not an LAPD picture, and we are still not convinced it is."

Levin was not questioned further about his claim to have "legally" obtained the evidence photo. Nor was he asked about his specious assertion that "we believed it was not an LAPD picture." Levin, a lawyer who once worked as a TV journalist, is, of course, experienced enough to know that police routinely take photos (just like the one TMZ published) of battered victims of domestic violence. Just who would be photographing a freshly bruised Rihanna on a darkened L.A. sidewalk? Annie Leibovitz?

During their chat, Levin assured Van Susteren that, "Chris Brown is not going to just say, 'I'm going to lay down on this one and not fight.' I guarantee you that Chris Brown is going to mount a defense in this case. I know that. He will mount a defense in this case." Brown, however, did just the opposite: He pleaded guilty a few months later to a felony assault count, for which he was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to perform six months of community labor.

While Levin's outfit now figures in a criminal probe stemming from the Rihanna attack, cops actually used TMZ as a source of information at the outset of their probe of the beating itself. According to one LAPD report, shortly after the attack investigators surfed the web site in a bid to locate paparazzi photos of the couple taken in the hours before the assault. The images were sought so that police could use them for before-and-after comparison purposes.

Rihanna and Brown, in L.A. for the February 8 Grammy Awards, had attended a party hosted by record executive Clive Davis on the evening of February 7. Photographers snapped the affectionate couple at the event, and as they departed the Beverly Hilton in the rented silver Lamborghini. As TMZ noted, those pre-attack photos showed "a smiling, unblemished Rihanna."