Charges against two Malibu residents are dropped after the case's second mistrial.
By McKenzie Jackson / Special to The Malibu Times
Criminal charges against two Malibu men accused of beating a French paparazzo and throwing him into the ocean were dismissed last week.
According to court documents, the Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lawrence J. Mira dropped the charges of misdemeanor battery against Malibu residents Skylar Peak, 25, and Phillip Hildebrand, 31, at the request of the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office during a July 2 hearing at the Malibu Courthouse.
The dismissal came two weeks after a 12-person jury came back deadlocked 8-4 in favor of a not guilty verdict against the defendants. Mira then declared a mistrial.
A clerk at the court said documents did not list why the charges were dropped. Calls made Monday to the District Attorney's Malibu Satellite Office were not returned at the time this paper went to print.
Peak said in a July 2 e-mail with The Malibu Times that in court, Deputy District Attorney Bill Penzin said he was not re-filing charges against Peak and Hildebrand because of the jury's decision and because he felt the public is biased toward paparazzi.
Peak, a Los Angeles County lifeguard, and Hildebrand, a photographer, were accused of being the chief agitators in a scuffle on a private portion of Little Dume Beach on June 21, 2008 between local surfers and a group of paparazzi who were taking pictures of actor Matthew McConaughey while he was surfing.
If the defendants had been convicted of the charges, each could have faced up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine.
Peak said in the e-mail that it felt great to have the charges dismissed.
“Let's just say I don't care for courtrooms,” he said. “I am happy not to be going back there anytime soon, hopefully.”
Hildebrand's attorney, Stefan Sacks of Sacks & Sacks Attorneys at Law in Los Angeles, wrote in a separate July 2 e-mail to The Malibu Times , “It is very satisfying to finally achieve justice for John and Skylar after what they have been put though for the last two years.”
After 20 months, the trial was set to start in Mira's courtroom in late March, but a mistrial was declared in response to Peak's mother, Denise Peak, being injured in a March 27 car accident on Decker Canyon Road.
During the time leading up to the trial and while in court, prosecutors said Peak and Hildebrand were the instigators in the incident between the paparazzi and beachgoers. Penzin said the defendants wanted the paparazzi off of the beach and disliked them because of their jobs.
In court, Penzin showed the jury video segments shot by paparazzo Karl Larson that prosecutors alleged showed that Peak and Hildebrand were guilty.
Peak and Hildebrand's attorneys said their clients were protecting the beach from a group of trespassing paparazzi. The lawyers also said the cameramen were the aggressors, and that one paparazzo pulled out a knife and stabbed Peak in the hand.
The trial began June 9 with more than a dozen people in the courtroom gallery there to support Hildebrand and Peak. Celebrity media outlet TMZ had requested to bring a video camcorder into the courtroom, but permission to do so was denied by Mira.
The trial featured testimony by Peak, Hildebrand, members of the paparazzi and witnesses who were on the beach at the time of the incident.
Sacks said the case's dismissal “definitely sends a message to the paparazzi that trespassing and thuggery will not be tolerated by the residents and the court system.”
Peak said he feels that some paparazzi are respectful and some are not.
“The ones that are not respectful were part of the group on the beach in 2008,” he wrote. “They do not care about trespassing or an individual's personal space. Many paparazzi generally have no regard for the law; they continue to race around town, run through stop signs, shove cameras in people's faces and push others out of the way. I don't always blame them because they can make up to $150k [sic] for a photo, but they should do so in a law-abiding way. They should also have to identify themselves with a press badge.”
Peak said he and Hildebrand were shocked that charges were ever filed against them.
“The charges were filed on August 25, 2008. Two months after the incident occurred,” he said. “I slept on it for a night, talked with John, and then met with an attorney. The bureaucracy doesn't give you a choice. They can file charges for whatever reason they want.”
Peak's attorney Harland W. Braun said the case against the defendants was poorly investigated and filed by the DA's office because of political pressure.
Peak also said he and Hildebrand are thankful for the emotional and financial support they received during the case from members of the community.