The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has identified eight deputies who possessed inappropriate photos from the Calabasas hillside where the helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others crashed on Jan. 26, killing all people aboard.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva on Monday confirmed the number of deputies involved, but he did not release their names or specify what disciplinary actions have been taken.
He said because the site was not a crime scene, officials other than members of the National Transportation Safety Board and the coroner’s office had no authorization to take photos.
“It’s wildly inappropriate,” Villanueva said. “It’s disgusting, and it harms people that suffered a tragedy already. And on top of that, it could be expanded beyond that by having a public display of their loved ones’ remains.”
All images known to the department have been deleted so they won’t be circulated anywhere, the sheriff said.
The Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission chair described that move as an apparent “cover-up of misconduct,” the Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday.
“I’m hoping that that’s not the case,” Commission Chair Patti Giggans said, noting that the investigation by the Sheriff’s Department was still ongoing.
The agency continued to assess whether or not there are any more photos, Villanueva said on Monday.
Citing peace officers’ bill of rights, Villanueva only disclosed that “appropriate administrative” action against the involved deputies have been taken.
He said the Sheriff’s Department is currently crafting a new rule that would allow the discharge of officers who take or share unauthorized photos of human remains.
“We’re also trying to get legislation passed in Sacramento to make it a crime,” Villanueva said. “As a crime, then we can do search warrants, we can seize things. We don’t have the capacity right now because it’s not a crime.”
The L.A. Times first reported about a complaint concerning “grim images” shared by a deputy at a bar in Norwalk.
Vanessa Bryant’s attorney later released a statement about the allegations, saying his client was “devastated” by the report.
The lawyer also linked the inappropriate behavior to the Los Angeles County Fire Department, which has not publicly addressed the scandal or responded to requests for a comment.
Asked if he knew of other agencies involved, Villanueva said: “It’s a likelihood, but we’re the most visible and we’re the easiest to pick on when it comes to the L.A. Times. But reality is we’re doing everything we humanly can do. We don’t want to extend or increase anybody’s anguish. We’re doing the best we can.”