The paparazzi business as a whole, as far as gotcha shots and six-figure paydays go, is said to be in decline—but you wouldn't guess that business is slowing down if you look at Justin Bieber's day-to-day life.
Almost since the day he broke out with "Baby" in 2010, he has been one of the most consistently followed celebs in Hollywood (and abroad, and everywhere else). Spurred on in no small part by his own antics, particularly when he it seemed as though he just couldn't stop getting into trouble in 2013 and 2014, the ongoing fascination with Bieber is noticeable even within an industry that almost guarantees the famous (and particularly the young and famous) at least a small paparazzi escort at restaurants, at the airport, at the coffee shop, at the gym and other normal places they visit on a daily basis.
Bieber has said that by now he's just gotten used to being screamed at—usually with gleeful excitement but sometimes with lesser feelings—by fans or other onlookers wherever he goes. Up until about a year ago, he helped the insider fan experience along by sharing tons of fairly intimate pics on social media, but after negative comments about a relationship got to be too much last August, he temporarily shut down his Instagram account. He has since returned to regular Instagramming, but the days of a new headline a week about bratty (and sometimes illegal) behavior are behind us.
Yet the effects of the rigors of touring continued to pile up and, just this week, Bieber decided to do something about it.
But this isn't what Bieber had in mind when he decided it was time to slow down and take a break.
Barely days after abruptly canceling the remainder of his Purpose World Tour because he was simply burnt out after more than 150 shows and over a year on the road, the 23-year-old singer hit a photographer with his truck while trying to pull out of the alley where he had parked to attend a church service held at the Saban Theater on Wilshire Boulevard, in the heart of Los Angeles.
A small horde of people witnessed the accident, as, in addition to the people filing out of the theater, there were groups of photographers on both sides of Bieber's vehicle snapping away as he got into the truck and attempted to leave. One eyewitness described it as a "mob scene."
Bieber wasn't arrested or otherwise cited for the incident and the paparazzo, who was transported by ambulance to nearby Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, suffered what police said was a non-life-threatening injury to one of his lower extremities. A witness said that the guy "fell down in the mob," and one of the truck wheels ran over his leg. We've also heard that Bieber accidentally grazed the pap and nothing more.
Bieber immediately got out of the truck and stayed at the scene to make sure the pap was OK, telling one particularly noisy parishioner at one point, "We don't need more people yelling here, OK? That's nice of you but we don't need anybody else yelling, please."
It sounds as though the artist acted responsibly in the aftermath, and the photographer has since shot a video from the hospital in which he called Justin "a good kid" despite what happened. "I think the truck was a little too big for him, though," he added, "'cause there's no way he could see over the front...But like I said, he got out, he was compassionate, he's a good kid, accidents happen. Hopefully everything works out here, getting ready to go into the X-rays right now."
Beverly Hills Police said Bieber "cooperated with the investigation and was subsequently released," and the investigation is ongoing. So that's that for now.
Legal expert Troy Slaten tells E! News that, as far as the scene Bieber was met with upon leaving the church, there are no specific laws against using flash photography at night, though "there is a rule about causing a distraction or dangerous situation."
"You are not allowed to cause a distraction to a driver or go into a street in an area that is not a crosswalk," Slaten continued. "Pedestrians always have the right of way and drivers always need to yield to pedestrians." However, "just because a pap is surrounding your car doesn't mean you have to stay there and be a prisoner."
The lawyer, who does not represent Bieber, also said, "If somebody blocks your vehicle from being able to move, that is false imprisonment and you are allowed to take reasonable steps to get out of that imprisonment."
"If the pap sues Justin Bieber civilly," Slaten added, "one of the defenses will be that he was taking reasonable steps to escape and the question would be whether what Justin did was reasonable or not." Slaten said that he didn't think it likely that the pap being charged, but Bieber could potentially cite false imprisonment as a counter-claim in a civil lawsuit.
Meanwhile, how could Bieber help experiencing a little déjà vu?
The "Despacito" singer also hit a paparazzo with his car in 2013, again an instance in which he was fixing to leave a place amid a swarm of photographers. He was behind the wheel of his white Ferrari, having just left The Laugh Factory in Hollywood, when the pap was hit—and in that instance, Bieber drove off afterward. Authorities investigated it as a possible hit-and-run incident, but ultimately the Biebs, 19 at the time, wasn't charged.
He's also been sued multiple times by individual photographers, including a lawsuit filed in 2013 over a 2012 incident in which he was accused of punching and karate-kicking a pap after the man tried to snap pictures of Bieber and then-girlfriend Selena Gomez leaving a movie theater in Calabasas. (The incident was investigated but no criminal charges were filed. The lawsuit was settled last year.)
In 2014 he gave a memorably surly deposition in a lawsuit filed against him in Miami by a photographer who alleged he was assaulted up by one of Bieber's bodyguards. With the case still pending last year, Bieber was ordered to give another deposition or face an arrest warrant, but he quietly settled the suit in October before his deadline to be deposed passed.
But while Bieber's behavior was questionable in certain instances, those outbursts followed some even more traumatic experiences.
In July 2012, photographer Paul Raef was actually charged with failure to obey an officer, reckless driving, and both following a vehicle too closely and reckless driving with intent to capture pictures for commercial gain, for speeding after Bieber on an L.A. freeway. Bieber, who was driving his flashy Fisker Karma at the time, got pulled over. Raef, who according to prosecutors gunned it when he was motioned to pull over with Bieber, was successfully pulled over about 30 minutes later when he resumed following the singer.
Bieber later filed a complaint with the California Highway Patrol, which prompted the investigation that led to criminal charges.
That November Raef's lawyer successfully argued that the two charges related to taking pics for commercial gain (an anti-paparazzi law passed in California in 2010) violated his client's constitutional rights, saying it was unfair to sweepingly punish people who were engaged in news-gathering or otherwise trying to "capture any type of visual image, sound recording, or other physical impression of another person for a commercial purpose." Just hike up the penalty for reckless driving, the attorney argued.
The lower court agreed and dismissed those two charges, but an appellate court recommended in 2013 that they be reinstated, stating in the decision that the law was "not constitutionally infirm because it is neither vague nor over-broad."
Raef, who was the first person to be prosecuted under the 2010 law, appealed again. In 2015, the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles upheld the charges, determining that the law didn't single out media and should apply to "any driver who follows too closely, swarms in, or drives recklessly with the requisite intent and purpose, whether or not the driver is a celebrity photographer."
Last year, almost four years after the initial incident, he pleaded no contest to one count of misdemeanor reckless driving with the intent to take photographs for commercial purpose. The other three charges were dropped as part of the plea deal, and he was sentenced to three years of informal probation and ordered to perform 150 hours of community service and complete a two-hour program on driving.
More importantly, after that case reached a conclusion there was precedent as far as prosecuting on the basis of that law, which had been passed following what certainly felt like an uptick in paparazzi-involved car accidents. Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears were among the celebs who had been trailed in their cars in recent years, and Jennifer Aniston, who told lawmakers about being boxed in by paps while driving on the Pacific Coast Highway, was said to be instrumental in the bill being signed into law (by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, incidentally, no stranger himself to a paparazzi escort).
"The court of appeals reversed in favor of protecting Justin Bieber and other celebrities," Slaten told E! News. "Essentially Justin is responsible for making law in California in regards to celebrity protection from paparazzi."
Long before that case was resolved, however, Bieber openly pleaded for more regulation after 29-year-old Chris Guerra was struck and killed by a passing car in January 2013 after getting out of his vehicle to snap photos of Bieber's white Ferrari—which Bieber was not driving or riding in at the time.
"While I was not present nor directly involved with this tragic accident, my thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim," Bieber said in a statement. "Hopefully this tragedy will finally inspire meaningful legislation and whatever other necessary steps to protect the lives and safety of celebrities, police officers, innocent public bystanders, and the photographers themselves."
"Hope this paparazzi/JB accident brings on some changes in '13," Miley Cyrus also tweeted at the time. "Paparazzi are dangerous! Wasn't Princess Di enough of a wake-up call?!"
A friend of Bieber's had been driving his car and was pulled over for speeding on L.A.'s 405 Freeway by a CHP officer. "This photographer evidently had been following the white Ferrari," authorities said, and when he saw the car pulled over, he hopped out of his own vehicle and crossed the street to get a closer look. "The CHP officer told him numerous times that it wasn't safe for him to be there [there was no designated pedestrian crossing or any other markers for pedestrians] and to return to his vehicle."
Possibly somewhat haunted by that accident, Bieber lashed out two months later at photographers in London who were swarming outside his hotel while he was in town on tour. The previous night he had collapsed on stage at O2 Arena after suffering a lack of oxygen and was briefly hospitalized.
After his entourage ushered him into a vehicle, Bieber then jumped out and lunged at one of the photographers, shouting, "What did you say? What did you say?!" and swearing.
"He deliberately went out of his way to shove the photographer," an eyewitness told The Guardian afterward. "The photographer shouted back at him as Bieber got into his car. Bieber then decided to get back out of the car and slapped his camera out of the way."
"Ahhhhh! Rough morning. Trying to feel better for this show tonight but let the paps get the best of me..." Bieber tweeted about the incident. "Sometimes when people r shoving cameras in your face all day and yelling the worst thing possible at u ... well I'm human. Rough week …
"Not gonna let them get the best of me again. Gonna get focused on this show tonight. Adrenaline is high now. Gonna put it on the stage … Only way someone can break u is if u let them."
The London encounter, however, coincided with the beginning of a darker period of Bieber's career, during which he was charged on separate occasions with DUI in Miami (he pleaded to a lesser charge), assault in Canada (pleaded guilty) and vandalism in L.A. (pleaded no contest). His rocky relationship with fame became more apparent and fans—and even some people in his inner circle—worried that he was headed irreversibly in the wrong direction.
He seemed to right the ship in early 2015, just in time for his 21st birthday, heralding his return to earth by eagerly partaking in The Comedy Central Roast of Justin Bieber. He headed back to the studio, performed at the MTV Video Music Awards for the first time in years and released Purpose that November. He won his first Grammy in 2016 and then headed out on tour that March.
But while public opinion has waxed and waned when it comes to the young artist, the paparazzi have never tired of him.
A source tells E! News that Bieber feels bad that someone got hurt last night, but he's no stranger to this sort of thing happening. "It was not a malicious act" on his part, the insider continued, but he continues to feel that the paps have "no regard for celebrities' personal space" and they're putting themselves at risk when they continue to get in the way of celebs going about their everyday business.
"Justin hopes [the photographer] is OK," the source added. "He never wanted anything like this to happen again. He experiences this all the time, but always tries to be as careful as possible when he is driving."
—Additional reporting by Holly Passalaqua