Los Angeles, CA – Eight Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies are under internal investigation in connection with leaked photographs of the helicopter crash that claimed the lives of National Basketball Association (NBA) legend Kobe Bryant and eight others.
On Monday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he was heartbroken to learn that five full-time deputies and three reservists were involved in taking graphic photographs of the mangled wreckage in the wake of the Jan. 26 crash, KMSB reported.
“I was horrified,” Sheriff Villanueva said. “I just felt betrayed by my own deputies.”
“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,” the sheriff continued. “And to have this happen, it was heartbreaking.”
The deputies were sent to the scene to secure the crash site – not to take photographs.
“They had no place to be taking any photographs of anything,” Sheriff Villanueva told KMSB.
According to KCAL, one of the deputies who took photos of the wreckage and human remains was a trainee.
He allegedly later showed the images to a girl he was trying to impress at a bar.
The bartender overheard the exchange and filed an online complaint about what the deputy had allegedly done, KCAL reported.
All eight of the involved deputies are under internal investigation, according to KMSB.
They have allegedly told investigators that they deleted the crash site photos from their phones after Sheriff Villanueva ordered that any unauthorized pictures be destroyed.
The only people authorized to take pictures of the crash scene were personnel from the coroner’s office and the National Transportation Safety Board, KMSB reported.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) policy does not specifically prohibit first responders from taking photos of accident scenes, Sheriff Villanueva acknowledged.
He said he plans to push for a law change that would allow for first responders to be criminally investigated in similar incidents in the future.
It is unclear whether or not the deputies accused of being involved in the leaked photo scandal will face disciplinary action, KMSB reported.
Sheriff Villanueva said he has apologized to the victims’ families.
Kobe Bryant’s wife, Vanessa Bryant, had personally traveled to the LCSO on Jan. 26 to request that “the area be designated a no-fly zone and protected from photographers,” her attorney, Gary Robb, told KMSB. “This was of critical importance to her as she desired to protect the dignity of all the victims, and their families.”
“We are demanding that those responsible for these alleged actions face the harshest possible discipline,” Robb told KCAL.
Kobe Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, died on Jan. 26 when the helicopter flying them and seven friends to a basketball tournament at Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks crashed into a Los Angeles County hillside.
A source told the Los Angeles Times that leaked pictures of victims’ remains and crash debris were a top of conversation amongst first responders in the days immediately following the helicopter crash.
He said he saw one of the photos on the phone of another official who had nothing to do with the crash investigation.
Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company that operated the helicopter, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Crash investigators have said that they believe the fog, poor weather conditions, and pilot error were the cause of the crash, according to KABC.
A preliminary report said the National Transportation Safety Board had not found any evidence of engine failure but they have not yet released a final report on the incident.
This is not the first time that Los Angeles law enforcement has been on the hot seat for leaking celebrity photos, the Los Angeles Times reported.
A Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer was fired when a police photo of Rihanna was leaked after she was beaten by Chris Brown in 2009.
And an investigation by the sheriff’s department discovered that celebrity investigator and author Anthony Pellicano was paying law enforcement for confidential information when the agency investigated who leaked documents and video related to Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic rant during his drunk driving arrest in 2006, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Los Angeles is not the only city dealing with a leaky police department.
New York Police Department (NYPD) officials recently sent out a video of NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan delivering a stern message in the wake of media leaks after two officers were shot within 12 hours in the Bronx 41st Precinct.
The video warning harsh punishments for leaks was sent to officers on Feb. 21 and had been leaked by Feb. 24, according to the New York Daily News.