Kobe Bryant Crash Photo Scandal Involves 8 Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriffs
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has confirmed that as many as eight deputies took graphic photos from the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash site.
The lives of basketball legend Bryant, 41, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, Christina Mauser; Payton and Sarah Chester; John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli, as well as the pilot, Ara Zobayan, were lost in a freak accident on January 26 in Calabasas, California.
News of a potential scandal emerged last week after sources alleged officers had been sharing illicit images from the crash site. Now, Villanueva has confirmed eight of his deputies took, saw or shared photos – which he ordered them to delete.
Initially, two ‘public safety sources with knowledge of the events’ told the Los Angeles Times that deputies had been sharing images from the scene, including the victims’ bloody remains – one such officer, a trainee deputy, had been assigned to Lost Hills Station, patrolling the area where the helicopter crashed.
Villanueva told NBC News:
That was my number one priority… to make sure those photos no longer exist, we identified the deputies involved, they came to the station on their own and had admitted they had taken them and they had deleted them. And, we’re content that those involved did that.
We’ve communicated in no uncertain terms that the behavior is inexcusable. I mean, people are grieving for the loss of their loved ones. To have that on top of what they’ve already gone through is unconscionable. And, to think any member of our department would be involved in that.
When he heard that his deputies had been sharing the photos, Villanueva told ABC7 he was ‘shocked… a punch to the gut’, adding that it was difficult enough helping the families cope with the tragedy, ‘and then to find out days later this happened, it’s just a sense of betrayal’.
Only two groups of people who would have been at the crash site were authorised to take photos: the county coroner’s office and investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board. ‘That is the only two groups of people. Anybody outside of that would be unauthorized. They’d be illicit photos,’ he added.
However, while it is a breach of department policy to have such photos, it isn’t against the law. Villanueva assured he’d be looking to tighten the policy around the matter – however, he was keen to note that officers taking personal photos at the scene has ‘been a problem ever since they invented the Polaroid’.
Vanessa Bryant’s attorney, Gary Robb, said she was ‘absolutely devastated’ to learn officers had taken photos from the scene, and added that sharing them would be ‘an unspeakable violation of human decency, respect, and of the privacy rights of the victims and their families’.
The officers who took photos are now facing an investigation, however Villanueva didn’t specify any disciplinary measures they may face.
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Los Angeles Times