The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s civilian oversight panel has agreed to examine the agency’s policies on taking photographs at crime and accident scenes in response to the controversy over deputies sharing photos of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva asked the panel to review the policies, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“We accepted the invitation … and look forward to working with the sheriff on this,” Patti Giggans, the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission chairwoman, told the newspaper Saturday.
Villanueva said last week that eight deputies were involved in taking and sharing photos of the remains of Kobe Bryant and other victims at the scene of the Jan. 26 crash in Calabasas, and that he ordered the photos to be destroyed
“That was my number one priority, to make sure those photos no longer existed,” Villanueva told NBC4.
The deputies involved are facing possible disciplinary action after the department conducts an investigation.
Villanueva said “it was such a hard scene dealing with the families first hand at Lost Hills Station… reassuring them that we’re doing everything possible, and then to find out days later that this happened, it’s just a sense of betrayal,” Villanueva told reporters.
“All photos that we know of that were in the possession of the individuals were deleted.”
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Los Angeles County coroner’s office were the only agencies that were supposed to be taking photos at the scene of the crash, Villanueva said.
In a statement issued by the department, Villanueva said he was “deeply disturbed at the thought deputies could allegedly engage in such an insensitive act.”
According to TMZ, “multiple L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies who responded to the crash scene took photos that included remains. We’re told one of the deputies — a trainee — took photos and at some point went to a bar and, as one source put it, `He tried to impress a girl by showing her the photos.’ We’re told the bartender overheard the conversation and filed an online complaint with the Sheriff’s Dept.
“We’re also told the cellphone photos were passed around at the Lost Hills Sheriff’s substation — the first responders to the crash. Sources say deputies from other substations around L.A. County also took cellphone photos.”
The sheriff’s department and other Los Angeles-area law enforcement agencies have struggled with keeping confidential information in high-profile cases from being shared in the past.
An attorney representing Bryant’s widow Vanessa Bryant says she specifically asked sheriff’s officials on the day of the crash to declare the area a no-fly zone to guard against photographers trying to cash in on the tragedy.
“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,” a letter from the attorney states. “… We are demanding that those responsible for these alleged actions face the harshest possible discipline, and that their identities be brought to light … we are requesting an Internal Affairs investigation of these alleged incidents.”
Some deputies were ordered to delete any photos taken at the scene and told that doing so would clear them of any discipline, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The order was given in the days after Jan. 26 crash into a Calabasas hillside during a meeting at the sheriff’s Lost Hills Station in Malibu and came after a complaint was filed that a deputy was showing the images to others at a bar in Norwalk, according to public safety sources who spoke on condition of anonymity to the newspaper.
The complaint was sent to the Sheriff’s Information Bureau. The head of the bureau, Capt. Jorge Valdez, told The Times he was not aware of the complaint and “there was no order given to delete any photographs.”
Sources told The Times that Valdez was among those who handled the complaint.
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