Members of an oversight group expressed concern Friday after The Times reported that Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies shared graphic photos of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others.
The Times spoke with two public safety sources with knowledge of the events. One of the sources said that the sharing of photos of the crash scene and the victims’ remains was the topic of a discussion among first responders two days after the crash. The source said he saw one of the photos on the phone of another official, in a setting that had nothing to do with the investigation of the crash. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter.
Patti Giggans, chair of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, told The Times on Friday that the alleged behavior is “completely unprofessional” and “very regrettable.”
“Hopefully we’ll hear more, what was going on and how they found out,” she said. “At this point, we have to trust that the sheriff is going to get to the bottom of it.”
Brian Williams, the commission’s executive director, said his office planned to make an inquiry as to what happened during a meeting with the Sheriff’s Department next week that had already been scheduled.
“I’m sure it’s something that the department is going to take very seriously,” he said.
After multiple inquiries by The Times, the Sheriff’s Department said Thursday that the “matter is being looked into.”
It’s unclear how widely the photos might have been disseminated and who exactly was involved. It’s also unclear whether the deputies had actually taken the photos at the scene or had received them from someone else.
Capt. Jorge Valdez, the head of the sheriff’s information bureau, said Wednesday that his office had been obligated to contact the family members of crash victims not because of allegations against the deputies but because The Times inquired about them.
Joseph Giacalone, who teaches police procedures at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said that generally, sharing photos with anyone not authorized to see them “is a cardinal sin in law enforcement.”
Law enforcement agencies, particularly in Los Angeles, have struggled over the years with the unauthorized use of evidence involving celebrities.
The Sheriff’s Department launched a lengthy investigation into the leaking of documents after Mel Gibson’s infamous anti-Semitic rant during a drunk driving arrest. The issue was also highlighted when it was revealed that celebrity private investigator Anthony Pellicano paid members of law enforcement agencies for confidential information.
A Los Angeles police officer was fired in connection with a leaked photo of Rihanna after she was beaten by Chris Brown in 2009.
In a brief interview Wednesday at the Hall of Justice downtown, Sheriff Alex Villanueva would not discuss the allegations in the Bryant case in any detail, including whether the department had received a complaint that the photos were shared inappropriately.
Valdez said he was “unaware of any complaint.”
Bryant’s helicopter crashed into a Calabasas hillside last month in dense fog, killing the retired NBA star, his daughter Gianna, 13, and seven others on their way to a youth basketball game in Thousand Oaks. The other victims were Christina Mauser; Payton and Sarah Chester; John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli; and pilot Ara Zobayan.
Attorneys for Vanessa Bryant filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company that operated the helicopter.
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