Los Angeles: Kobe Bryant’s widow was “absolutely devastated” by reports that Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies had shared graphic photos of the helicopter crash scene where her husband, their 13-year-old daughter and seven others were killed, her lawyer said in a statement on Sunday.
The allegations were first reported by The Los Angeles Times, which cited two “public safety sources,” one of whom had seen one of the photos on another official’s phone in a setting that was unrelated to the investigation. The paper also reported that some of the photos showed victims’ remains. It was not clear how the photos were disseminated, and who had taken them.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement on Sunday that “the facts surrounding these allegations are currently under investigation, as are the effectiveness of existing policies and procedures.”
The statement added that Sheriff Alex Villanueva was “deeply disturbed at the thought deputies could allegedly engage in such an insensitive act.”
Bryant, 41, the retired Los Angeles Lakers star, was killed along with his daughter Gianna and seven others when the helicopter that was carrying them to a youth basketball tournament crashed into a hillside near Calabasas, California, on Jan. 26.
Gary C. Robb, the lawyer for Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, said in a statement that she went to the sheriff’s office on the day of the crash “and requested that the area be designated a no fly-zone and protected from photographers.”
Robb added that “this was of critical importance to her as she desired to protect the dignity of all the victims, and their families.”
“At that time,” he said, “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 honour those requests.”
Robb also said in his statement that the sharing of the photos “is an unspeakable violation of human decency, respect and of the privacy rights of the victims and their families.”
It was not clear how widely the crash-scene photos were shared, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Robb demanded that those who had shared the photos “face the harshest possible discipline, and that their identities be brought to light, to ensure that the photos are not further disseminated.”
Police departments have their own guidelines and policies about officers photographing and sharing images of a crash or crime scene.
“If not prohibited, it should be prohibited,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former officer with the New York Police Department and a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. “It’s problematic conduct.”
He noted that the Police Department last week warned its officers about leaking official photos and videos to the news media in the aftermath of a shooting last month at a Bronx precinct house that sent an officer to the hospital.
O’Donnell said that because of the nature of their jobs, police officers “have front row seats to catastrophes and unimaginable events.”
“It’s not surprising that there would be a cohort within the larger group of officers who find sharing that material irresistible,” he said.
In addition to the anguish sharing such photos might bring to victims’ families, it also could create legal issues. “The existence of unofficial photos could become an issue for both prosecutors and defence counsel should a criminal case be pursued,” he said.