Sheriff Alex Villanueva voiced support Wednesday for legislation that would bar first responders from taking personal photos at crime scenes — a bill prompted by images snapped by deputies at the scene of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant.
Assembly Bill 2655 would make such photographs a misdemeanor crime, with a maximum punishment of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
“This is a very important piece of legislation,” Villanueva said Wednesday. “It arose out of the helicopter crash in Calabasas, and it provides something very important: it’s peace of mind for the families, next of kin and those who perished in an accident.”
Although Villanueva said his department has policies against taking and sharing photos from crime scenes, but those policies alone have proven insufficient.
The issue arose in the weeks following the January helicopter crash that killed Bryant and eight other people. Following reports that a sheriff’s deputy had shows graphic photos of the crime scene to people at a bar, the department later said as many as eight deputies had taken unauthorized photos at the crime scene.
Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, has filed a damages claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — against the department over the photos. Villanueva said he ordered the photos to be destroyed.
With AB 2655, also called the Invasion of Privacy: First Responders Act, introduced by Assemblyman Mike A. Gipson, D-Carson, Villanueva said his department will be able to take action against first responders who snap such photos in the future.
The sheriff supported the bill during a press briefing Wednesday, and spoke in support of it Tuesday during an Assembly Public Safety Committee hearing. The committee approved the bill, which will now move to the Appropriations Committee.
“No person, including our first responders, should ever take photos of a deceased person for their own personal gain,” Gipson said in a statement.