That's me in the light shirt, second from the right, face down.
Bloomberg news crew mistaken for robbery suspects. (Brittany Joe via Twitter / April 21, 2011)
Today started as another day of work, and as I sit here at home writing this down I realize how it could have easily been my last day. The assignment was to go out with a TV crew to do a story on paparazzi and we were riding along with a seasoned pap who agreed to let us ride along with him for the day. All five of us pile in to his SUV. Somewhere at a mini mall up in the hills of Bel-Air we get Rod Stewart at a Starbucks, a “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” woman shooting a segment in a boutique, and then some interviews with a few other paps there. Then, it's off to find more celebs. We were driving east on Sunset Blvd and we see cops and an lapd chopper circling around near Sunset and San Vicente. I tried to find out what was going on and opened my police scanner app on the iPhone. Soon, we had passed the action foused on looking for celebrities. The photographer thought he spotted a celebutante dri and he pulled a U-turn and commented as we saw Dr Dre parked on the side of the road, “Don’t worry Dr Dre, we’re not after you” we pulled up to the car he thought was the celebutante but it turned out to be a false alarm.. He then pulled into a know celeb hangout and we were going to park in a lot at Sunset Plaza, that’s when the absolutely crazy, surreal episode started to play out.
I heard a police siren behind us in the parking lot, Giles says “are they pulling me over” and I said, no way. That’s when he said they had guns pulled and pointed at us., I’m thinking he’s joking and I turned around and I see about ten LAPD cops with guns and rifles pointed right at me as I looked out the window at them. For a brief second I consider picking up my camera for a phot, followed immediately by my realization of the severity of a situation, that this was a life threatening situtaion, I had never had guns pointed at me before like this ever, holy shit! No way am I pointing a camera at them, I knew they would open fire. I yell out to them, “we’re are journalists working on a story” “SHUT UP AND FACE FORWARD” I’m not sure if this is really happening, it really felt like a surreal dream. I definitely do not want to die. “Both arms out the window and face forward” booms out of a loudspeaker. Unbelievable, what the hell , surely they will figure out this a big misunderstanding I’m thinking. This can’t be happening my brain tries to tell me. My life is on the line here. I really felt like they would shoot at any second with any false move, and I’m REALLY hoping they don’t make a mistake and start shooting. “Driver slowly exit the vehicle” I keep thinking “ ok this is about to be resolved, this is nuts!!” I started to laugh to myself, finding it all absurd. I hear them ordering him to get on the ground face down, spread out you legs. WTF, this is really happening…. “Front Passenger, slowly exit the vehicle arms up in the air” I watch as the cameraman tries to get out of the SUV with a large TV video camera that he was holding on his lap, I’m think holy shit, what if they think it’s a weapon and blast us all, followed by thinking they will see the camera and realize they have royally screwed up here. My mind is racing but somehow, I’m not really freaking out too much. They order him over to the ground etc, then I hear rear right side passenger, step out of the vehicle, I’m like rear right?, ok rear right, yes, thats me I realize. I have my iPhone in my hand, I wanted to try to take a picture if at all possible but I knew that would probably mean certain death, so I instinctively put the phone in my pants pocket that immediately led to some serious shouting about “HANDS IN THE AIR”!!!!!!! A bystander told me after they all lunged forward when I did this lifiting there weapons in a an even more serious manner, It was an instinctive move, I knew I was innocent and this was all a misunderstanding, but that could have been lights out for me right there. “Walk backwards with hands in the air, move to the left, ok stop put one knee on the gorund, I became angry and said “you are making a bug mistake here”.. stop talking, other knee on the ground” Again I’m thinking , is this a dream?? I lie down on the hot pavement face to the ground / “Spread your legs and Hands out!!” I look over to the cameraman next to me,”Turn your head to the left!” Helicopter circling overhead, more barking out of orders to the next “Perp” the sound man. He’s explaining he has audio gear plugged in, has equipment strapped to his waist. I think oh god, please don’t shoot him. Then, Nora ,m a TV Producer is next and last to exit the vehicle. I can’t believe this is still happening, what the hell. I’m getting angry. At least 10 minutes have passed. Finally ok, stand up, by this time I’m frazzled and pissed off. A cop walks me order to a police car, things are calming down now, no more loudspeaker. I said something about “Keystone Cops” and a few other comments, Giles is pissed too saying something but I can’t remember what he said. I realize it’s safe now, because I’m expressing anger and nobody says anything at all. and now the lead officer comes over, you can relax he says, that’s when I finally noticed I was shaking. I ask if I can get my camera, he thinks for a second and says in a minute. Damn! This sucks, I’m powerless and I didn’t do anything wrong. Then the apologies start, weapons down, guns now back in the holsters. We are sorry he says,, there was a robbery somewhere on Santa Monica Blvd , apparently I matched the description of one of the armed robbers and the LAPD airship saw me through the window. The officer tells me I looked like one of the armed robber descriptions “a Hispanic male with a black hat” and and they were “driving a dark SUV” ……. Ok, I can tell he’s sorry, but damn man, you guys almost killed me I‘m thinking…
I’m calming down now, intellectually I understand his explanation, he mentions something about “we all have families to go home to”. OK, yeah, I understand all that, I’m a reasonable man, but my experience of having a whole slew of lethal weapons pointed at me, all for a case of mistaken identity?? I didn’t sign up for that.
The lead officer suggests we (the news crew) get a beer to calm down. I’m going to pass on that, not what I want to do. I’m snapping photos now as he shakes all of our hands, but I never was allowed to make one photograph until all the commotion had died down, but it’s not really important because at least we are all ok.