Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva admitted Monday he has known for weeks that deputies took photos of the crash site where Kobe Bryant and eight others were killed, and said he ordered department personnel to delete the images from their personal devices.
“That was my number one priority, to make sure those photos no longer exist,” Villanueva told NBC 4 Los Angeles. “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.”
Villanueva told the TV station he learned the week of the crash that as many as eight deputies had taken or seen photos of the scene where the helicopter crashed into a Calabasas hillside on January 26. The sheriff said those involved included a trainee deputy assigned to the Lost Hills substation, located near the crash site.
The LASD was notified about the photos by someone who overheard a conversation at a bar between a bartender and a person who claimed to have pictures from the accident scene, the sheriff said.
“We’ve communicated in no uncertain terms that the behavior is inexcusable,” Villanueva stated. “I mean, people are grieving for the loss of their loved ones.”
The matter was kept from the public until last week when the Los Angeles Times published a February 28 story saying deputies were passing around “graphic” images from the crash site. TMZ published similar claims that same day, saying deputies who responded to the crash scene took “gruesome” photos that “included remains.” The website said responding personnel from the Los Angeles County Fire Department also snapped photos at the crash site.
Both outlets reported sheriff’s department leaders were aware of the photo leaks weeks ago, and told deputies they could avoid discipline if they admitted involvement and simply deleted the pictures.
After the media reports surfaced, the sheriff’s department said allegations that deputies were sharing the pictures were being probed, but offered no specifics. The department also said Villanueva was “deeply disturbed” by the claims.
Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, released a statement through her attorneys yesterday saying she is “absolutely devastated” by news that photos from the crash had been leaked.
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were killed in the crash, along with pilot Ara Zobayan; Orange Coast College head baseball coach John Altobelli; his wife Keri Altobelli; their 14-year-old daughter Alyssa Altobelli; Christina Mauser, a basketball coach at Harbor Day School in Newport Beach; Payton Chester, a basketball teammate of Gianna’s; her mother, Sarah Chester; and Kobe and Gianna Bryant.