A photographer whose minivan collided with actress Lindsay Lohan’s Mercedes-Benz in May, sparking a debate in Hollywood over the behavior of paparazzi and a crackdown by authorities on their tactics, will not face criminal charges in the case, prosecutors said Wednesday.
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said there was insufficient evidence that Galo Cesar Ramirez, 24, of North Hollywood intentionally struck the driver’s side of Lohan’s car as Lohan and detectives initially had said.
“We considered two charges, felony stalking and assault with a deadly weapon, and found there was insufficient evidence on both,” said William Hodgman, deputy district attorney in charge of the Target Crimes Division, in an interview.
The decision came as something of a surprise in Hollywood because both police and lawmakers had cited the case as an example of why authorities must respond to reports of aggressive paparazzi allegedly stalking and even staging accidents in order to get photographs of stars.
The collision spurred Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign a measure making it easier for celebrities to collect major damages from agencies that employ aggressive paparazzi.
Prosecutors also refused to press charges in a similar incident involving actress Reese Witherspoon earlier this year.
While declining to pursue the Lohan case, Hodgman said the district attorney’s office was continuing its wider examination of paparazzi tactics and whether prosecutors could file conspiracy cases against photographers and the companies that purchase their photos.
Lohan’s representatives said she was thankful for the district attorney’s careful consideration of the case but would not comment further on the outcome.
On May 31, Ramirez was among several photographers who were trailing Lohan and a friend from La Scala restaurant when she made a U-turn on West 3rd Street near the Beverly Center. Ramirez’s vehicle struck the front panel of Lohan’s car as he negotiated the turn, a prosecutor’s report said.
The actress told investigators she made the U-turn in an attempt to flag down a passing police car because paparazzi were running red lights and speeding in pursuit of her.
Lohan, the star of such films as “Mean Girls” and “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen,” and her passenger sustained minor injuries in the collision. Photographers surrounded the crash scene, photographing and videotaping Lohan, who was visibly shaken. Ramirez, the prosecutor’s report noted, did not take any pictures.
“Based upon the damage sustained to both the victim’s and the suspect’s cars, it appears that ... the suspect was most likely driving carelessly when he collided with the victim’s car,” Hodgman wrote in court papers. “It was not an intentional assault.”
Ramirez was booked for assault with a deadly weapon. Inside his minivan, detectives found a contract with a list of celebrity names and descriptions of their cars along with a camera with photos of other celebrities. Ramirez could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Lohan’s passenger told authorities the actress called 911 numerous times during the pursuit. But no records were found of any calls except one placed by Lohan to report the crash, a prosecutor’s report said.
Prosecutors and police said they have begun to see evidence that such incidents are not random but are orchestrated. Officials said photos or videotape taken after confrontations between paparazzi and stars usually captured celebrities in an emotional state. These images are prized by celebrity photo magazines.
Ramirez was working for the agency Fame Pictures. Through its lawyer, the photo agency has insisted that the collision was a traffic accident and nothing more.
Arnold Cousart, another paparazzo and friend of Ramirez, said in a recent interview that his colleague did nothing wrong.
The incident involving Lohan was one of several in 2005 in which the paparazzi have been involved in scuffles or collisions with celebrities.
In August, actress Scarlett Johansson crashed into a car carrying a family as she was trying to elude paparazzi who had followed her from Hollywood to Disneyland.
Witherspoon’s car was struck in a parking lot in April. She told authorities she was then run off the road by photographers as she drove home. Prosecutors investigated Witherspoon’s allegations, but also declined to file charges in that case.
A birthday outing to Disney’s California Adventure theme park for Witherspoon’s daughter in September, however, resulted in a photographer being charged with battery, child endangerment and false imprisonment after he was allegedly involved in an altercation with Disney employees and friends of the actress.