The Los Angeles County Sheriff says eight of his deputies were discovered to have taken photos of the wreckage of the helicopter that crashed and killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, 13, and seven others in Calabasas, California, on January 26.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva also said that he had the images deleted because the effect would have been ‘unconscionable’ to grieving family members.
However, Villanueva also said that his officers did not break any rules.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva says eight of his deputies were discovered to have taken photos of the wreckage of the helicopter that crashed and killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, 13, and seven others in Calabasas, California, on January 26
Villanueva also said that he had the images deleted because the effect would have been ‘unconscionable’ to grieving family members
The deputies did not break any rules because the department does not restrict its officers from taking pictures with their cell phones, the sheriff says
Deputies are not restricted from taking pictures on their personal cell phones.
The officers were still placed under an internal investigation and could face disciplinary action.
Bryant’s widow Vanessa has called for the ‘harshest discipline’ against the deputies.
In response to a claim the photos showed the victims’ remains, the widow called the cops’ alleged actions ‘inexcusable and deplorable’ in a statement shared on Instagram.
Vanessa’s lawyer, Gary Robb, said that she went to the sheriff’s office on the day of the crash, ‘and requested that the area be designated a no-fly zone and protected from photographers.’
‘This was of critical importance to her as she desired to protect the dignity of all the victims, and their families,’ Robb said. ‘At that time, Sheriff Alex Villanueva assured us all measures would be put in place to protect the families’ privacy, and it is our understanding that he has worked hard to honor those requests.’
NBA legend Kobe Bryant pictured in a family photo before his death in a January 26 helicopter crash in Calabasas, California
Bryant is pictured with his daughter Gianna, 13, at a Los Angeles Lakers game in 2019. Both father and daughter were lost in a helicopter crash that claimed nine lives in Calabasas, California, on January 26
Bryant’s widow Vanessa has called for the ‘harshest discipline’ against sheriff’s deputies who had taken photos of the wreckage, including images of the remains of the victims
Robb said the sharing of photos would be ‘an unspeakable violation of human decency, respect, and of the privacy rights of the victims and their families.’
He called for those who shared the photos to ‘face the harshest possible discipline, and for their identities be brought to light, to ensure that the photos are not further disseminated.’
Villanueva said he ordered the photos destroyed as soon as he learned the images were taken by five full-time deputies and three reservists from the Lost Hills station.
‘I was horrified,’ he said, offering his reasons for the destruction of the images.
‘I just felt betrayed by my own deputies ’cause it’s such a hard thing to do as a first responder, go to a scene of such a horrific accident, talking to the families, three families that were there at the Lost Hills station, personally, and their concerns about privacy, and how we could make the day better for them if any way possible. And to have this happen, it was heartbreaking,,’ Villanueva told KTTV.
Firefighters are pictured at the scene of the crash. In the days after the tragedy, and after an officer was accused of showing off the photos at a bar, deputies were ordered to come clean and delete the images to avoid disciplinary measures, two public safety sources said
First responders and investigators are pictured searching through the wreckage. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva says he was ‘horrified,’ knowing pictures were taken o f the scene by his officers
A still image taken from a January 27 video released by the National Transportation Safety Board of the remains of the helicopter that crashed a day before, killing NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, 13, and seven others
The remains of the helicopter’s fuselage are still visible in an image taken from a January 27 video released by the National Transportation Safety Board
A wheel can be seen in the wreckage of the helicopter crash that claimed NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daugher Gianna and seven others on January 26
The sheriff in a similar interview told NBC News that he had the images destroyed immediately upon learning they existed.
‘That was my No. 1 priority, was to make sure those photos no longer exist,’ Villanueva told the news outlet.
‘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,’ he explained.
‘We’ve communicated in no uncertain terms that the behavior is inexcusable,’ the sheriff added.
‘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.’
Villanueva said the Sheriff’s Department doesn’t have a specific policy about taking photographs on personal cellphones. But he plans to change that situation and would like to see a state law making it illegal to take unauthorized photos of accident scenes depicting dead bodies.
Villanueva told KABC-TV that the deputies are facing an investigation and possible disciplinary action. He wouldn’t specify the kind of actions they might face.
A tweet from the sheriff’s office acknowledges the deputies took the images and that the sheriff was ‘deeply disturbed’ they engaged in such an ‘insensitive act’
A report by the National Transportation Safety Board stated there weren’t any signs of engine failure from the wreckage recovered from the crash site.
The pilot, Ara Zobayan, had nearly navigated the helicopter out of blinding clouds when it turned and plunged into the mountainside.
Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, filed a wrongful death lawsuit Monday, alleging that Zobayan was careless and negligent by flying in cloudy conditions and should have aborted the flight.
The lawsuit names Island Express Helicopters, operator of the service, and Island Express Holding, owner of the craft.
It also targets pilot Ara Zobayan´s representative or successor, listed only as ‘Doe 1’ until a name can be determined.
Also killed in the crash were Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter Alyssa; Christina Mauser, who helped Bryant coach the girls’ basketball team; and Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton. Alyssa and Payton were Gianna’s teammates.