The Los Angeles County sheriff acknowledged Monday that he ordered eight deputies to delete graphic photos of the site of the helicopter crash that killed former Lakers star Kobe Bryant and eight others.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva told NBC News that he was concerned the photos would get shared and gain public distribution.
“That was my No. 1 priority, was to make sure those photos no longer exist,” Villanueva said. “We identified the deputies involved, they came to the station on their own and had admitted they had taken them and they had deleted them. And, we’re content that those involved did that. …
“We’ve communicated in no uncertain terms that the behavior is inexcusable. I mean, people are grieving for the loss of their loved ones. To have that on top of what they’ve already gone through is unconscionable. And, to think any member of our department would be involved in that.”
Among those who had the photos was a trainee deputy, who reportedly was overheard at a bar discussing the pictures. Villanueva said that led to the sheriff department’s knowledge of the photos’ existence.
Gary C. Robb, the lawyer for Vanessa Bryant, who lost her husband, Kobe, and daughter Gianna in the crash, said in a statement, “This is an unspeakable violation of human decency, respect, and of the privacy rights of the victims and their families.
“We are demanding that those responsible for these alleged actions face the harshest possible discipline, and that their identities be brought to light, to ensure that the photos are not further disseminated.”
Villanueva added that his investigation is ongoing, telling KABC-TV that those involved might face disciplinary action.
“Had we done the original, usual routine, which was relieve everybody of duty and everybody lawyers up and all that, that would increase the odds 10-fold that those photos would have some how made their way into the public domain. And that’s definitely what we do not want,” he said.
The Jan. 26 helicopter crash near Calabasas, Calif., claimed the lives of Kobe Bryant, 41; Gianna Bryant, 13; John Altobelli, 56; Keri Altobelli, 46; Alyssa Altobelli, 14; Christina Mauser, 38; Sarah Chester, 45; Payton Chester, 13; and pilot Ara Zobayan, 50.
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