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Tbt* photographer beaten and robbed outside club

ST. PETERSBURG — A photographer for tbt*/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, police say.

Luis Santana, 25, learned that R&B artists Chris Brown and Rihanna, who opened for Kanye West in Tampa earlier that night, were celebrating Brown's 19th birthday in St. Petersburg.

Santana wasn't allowed to photograph inside the club.

But as Brown left, Santana took pictures of him in a black stretch limousine. Then guards for the celebrities chased him and forced him to the ground, he 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, he said.

Santana has scratches and bruises on his chest, back and arms. He refused treatment at the scene.

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

Neil Brown, the executive editor and vice president of the Times, which publishes tbt*, said Santana was acting appropriately. He added that the paper was cooperating with the police.

"This is outrageous. Our photographer was beaten up taking pictures on a public street," Brown said. "We anticipate the police can and will help us get to the bottom of this. We want our pictures back, and we want somebody held accountable for this assault."

Brown's representatives could not be reached for comment.

James Guttridge, manager of Vintage Ultra Lounge, said the club instructs security personnel not to get involved in incidents outside the club. Guttridge said guards can't prohibit photographers from being on the public right of way.

Guttridge said a Vintage VIP invited Rihanna to the club while backstage at the show. He confirmed that Rihanna and Chris Brown were at the club Monday night.

He declined to comment on whether the club gave Rihanna a discount or paid 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.

Times reporter Abhi Raghunathan contributed to this report. Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or sgarry@sptimes.com.

Tbt* photographer beaten and robbed outside club 05/06/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 8, 2008 1:24pm]
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