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'tbt' photographer's lawsuit says R&B stars' guards beat him, took camera

ST. PETERSBURG — A tbt* photographer has filed a lawsuit against R&B stars Rihanna and Chris Brown, alleging that their bodyguards beat him and stole his camera.

Luis Santana, 26, is seeking $1-million to replace his camera and photos, and to compensate him for injuries and distress.

"I just don't want them to get away with it," said Santana, a 32-hour employee of tbt*, a tabloid published five days a week by Times Publishing Co. "That's not right. I wasn't doing anything wrong."

The St. Petersburg Times did not join the suit because the injuries were only to Santana, said Times attorney Alison M. Steele.

"He has a right as a citizen to seek redress for being beaten up," she said. "We stand behind him."

The lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday, stems from a May 6 incident that occurred as Brown and Rihanna celebrated his 19th birthday at Vintage Ultra Lounge in St. Petersburg.

Santana took a picture of the couple through an open window of their limo, said Paul Kimsey, Santana's lawyer.

Guards working for Brown, Rihanna and the club chased Santana, forced him to the ground and stole his camera, Kimsey said. The club and the guards also are listed as defendants in the suit.

"This is America. It's called the First Amendment," Kimsey said. "If you're in public, you're subject to being photographed. Everyone is, celebrity or not."

Kimsey says the most significant loss was the picture that Santana took of Brown and Rihanna as they left the club. The two singers have not publicly confirmed they are dating, and the photo showed them together on Brown's birthday, Kimsey said.

Prosecutors reviewed the case, but declined to pursue criminal charges because witness statements conflicted and suspects could not be identified beyond a reasonable doubt, said Bruce Bartlett, the Pinellas-Pasco chief assistant state attorney.

"We're not saying it didn't happen," Bartlett said. "We're saying we can't really show it because everybody's giving us different stories."

'tbt' photographer's lawsuit says R&B stars' guards beat him, took camera 12/02/08 [Last modified: Thursday, December 4, 2008 2:40pm]

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