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Los Angeles police have opened an internal investigation into who illicitly leaked a close-up photograph of Rihanna's brutalized face purportedly taken after her Feb. 8 altercation with Chris Brown.
"The Los Angeles Police Department takes seriously its duty to maintain the confidentiality of victims of domestic violence," the LAPD said in a statement Thursday. The department has yet to publicly identify Rihanna as the alleged victim in Brown's case.
"A violation of this type is considered serious misconduct, with penalties up to and including termination."
The LAPD says it immediately launched an investigation after its media relations department was inundated with press inquiries about the picture, which first surfaced on TMZ.com and appeared to the cops to be a photo taken "during an official domestic violence investigation."
The police encourage anyone with information about how the photo got out in the first place to contact the department.
The photograph making the rounds is a close-up of a young woman's face. Her eyes are closed and she looks to have sustained various cuts and bruises to her forehead, lips and cheeks. (E! Online has made the editorial decision not to run the image.)
On Friday, the L.A. police officers union offered its approval of the LAPD's response to the leak.
"We applaud the Los Angeles Police Department for quickly opening an internal investigation into whether a picture posted on TMZ.com is an actual evidence photo," read a statement issued by Paul M. Weber, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League.
"As in the case of the privacy breach earlier this month where confidential personnel information of 248 officers was disclosed by the LAPD, the LAPPL strongly supports an expansive review of security procedures within the Department. We fully support letting the investigation take its natural course."
The identitiy of any officers accused of wrongdoing should also be kept confidential, Weber added.
A law-enforcement source close to the Brown investigation tells E! News the leaked photo was one taken by a detective when officers first arrived at the Hancock Park scene of the alleged attack.
"There was another set taken at the hospital, where the swelling is even worse," the source said.
Per the source, the fight began when Rihanna intercepted an incoming text message to Brown's cell phone from another woman. She later told police this wasn't the first time Brown had been physically abusive.
But this time, the source said, "she may have thrown the first punch."
The insider also tells us that, within 48 hours of Brown's arrest, "a tabloid" offered "over 100 grand" for a police photo of Rihanna.
"Internal Affairs is up in their butts over the leaks," the source said, adding that, even earlier today, LAPD staffers were being warned about leaking info. "They're threatening to administer polygraphs."
The D.A.'s office, which is trying to pin a felony charge on Brown, is still mulling over the best avenue to take if it opts to prosecute.
The consensus among police is that the D.A. will only file charges for crimes for which they have "solid" evidence.
Brown is currently free on $50,000 bail. He has booked by police on suspicion of making criminal threats.
We urge anyone who is a victim of domestic violence to contact
the National Domestic Violence Hotline online or at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
(Originally published Feb. 19, 2009 at 10:12 p.m. PT.)