The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has issued a statement saying Sheriff Alex Villanueva is “deeply disturbed” by news reports that deputies snapped and passed around photos from last month’s helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others.
“The Sheriff’s Department is aware of recent media reports alleging deputies shared images from the January 26th, 2020 helicopter crash, which tragically claimed the lives of nine people. The facts surrounding these allegations are currently under investigation, as are the effectiveness of existing policies and procedures,” the LASD said in a statement Friday.
“The sheriff is deeply disturbed at the thought deputies could allegedly engage in such an insensitive act,” the department added.
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The statement came shortly after the Los Angeles Times published a Friday story saying deputies shared “graphic” images from the crash site in Calabasas. The Times article cited two separate law enforcement sources, including one who told the paper he saw a photo from the crash on the phone of another official, “in a setting that had nothing to do with the investigation of the crash.”
TMZ published similar claims, saying it was told by law enforcement sources that “multiple L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies who responded to the crash scene took photos that included remains.” The website alleged that the photos were “passed around at the Lost Hills Sheriff’s substation,” which is near the location of the crash.
Both outlets also alleged sheriff’s department brass has been aware of the photo matter for some time, and told deputies they could avoid discipline if they admitted involvement and simply deleted the pictures.
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were killed in the crash, along with pilot Ara Zobayan; Orange Coast College head baseball coach John Altobelli; his wife Keri Altobelli; their 14-year-old daughter Alyssa Altobelli; Christina Mauser, a basketball coach at Harbor Day School in Newport Beach; Payton Chester, a basketball teammate of Gianna’s; her mother, Sarah Chester; and Kobe and Gianna Bryant.
Los Angeles-area law enforcement agencies have struggled in the past to prevent confidential information in high-profile cases from being leaked.