May 6, 2008

Tampa Bay Times photographer assaulted

ST. PETERSBURG -- A photographer for Tampa Bay Times was beaten and robbed Monday night near the Vintage Ultra Lounge in downtown St. Petersburg, where he had gone to cover a celebrity's birthday party.

Luis Santana, 25, learned that hip-hop artists Chris Brown and Rihanna were celebrating Brown's 19th birthday at a private party in St. Petersburg. He talked to the Vintage security and was told he could take photographs outside, Santana said.

When he photographed Brown in a black Excursion or Expedition limousine, security guards for the celebrities chased him and forced him to the ground, Santana said. One guard put his knee on Santana's jaw and when he tried to push it away, the guards took his camera, worth about $3,000.

Santana said he has abrasions and bruises on his chest, back and arms.

"I’ve shot many many celebrities and this was just another notch on my belt," Santana said. "Then it just turned sour."

Police said there could be four male suspects who are bodyguards, but their names are unknown. The suspects left the scene in the limousine.

James Guttridge, manager of Vintage Ultra Lounge, said the club instructs security personnel not to get involved in altercations that happen outside the club. Guttridge said guards do not have the authority to prohibit photographers from shooting pictures outside the club, on the public right-of-way.

"Our only concern is what happens inside here," Guttridge said.

Rihanna opened for Kanye West at the Ford Amphitheatre earlier that night. Guttridge said a Vintage VIP invited Rihanna to come to the club while backstage at the show. He declined to comment on whether the club gave Rihanna a discount or paid for her to appear.

Guttridge called the incident "unfortunate" and said he hopes celebrities will feel welcome in St. Petersburg, but also doesn't want residents to be turned off.

Santana took photos of Rihanna at International Plaza on Monday afternoon (including the photo shown here), and said bodyguards resisted his presence there.

No comments: