Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has been accused of trying to cover up the actions of Los Angeles sheriffs deputies, who allegedly took illicit photos of the Kobe Bryant crash site, after Villanueva received a complaint that a sheriff’s deputy was showing off graphic photos of the tragedy at a local bar.
According to NBC News, Villanueva has admitted to ordering deputies to delete graphic photos of the crash, which claimed the lives of eight people including the former Lakers basketball star’s 13-year-old daughter.
“We’ve communicated in no uncertain terms that the behavior is inexcusable,” Villanueva told the news agency. “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.”
According to NBC News, Villanueva told deputies to delete the photos out of concern that they may leak to the media or other members of the public. Currently, it isn’t clear how many deputies had photos of the crash.
While Villanueva told the news agency that no department-wide policies were violated by taking photos of the crash site, the Los Angeles Times has reported that there is a department policy about taking photos with personal devices while on the job.
Villanueva justified his decision to ask deputies to delete the photos in an interview with NBC News.
“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,” Villanueva told the news agency.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the complaint sent to the sheriff’s office noted that a deputy had photos of the bodies.
As the Times has previously reported, Villanueva allegedly wanted to keep the public from finding out deputies were circulating the photos in the first place, and promised to not discipline anyone who showed up to the Lost Hill sheriff’s station to delete the photos in person.
After the Times reported on the incident, the sheriff’s office announced an investigation into the photos — over a month after the sheriff’s office received the complaint. But Patti Giggins, the chair of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, told the news agency that deleting the photos appears to be an example of “a cover-up of misconduct.”
Garry C. Robb, an attorney for Vanessa Bryant, told NBC News in a statement that having deputies take photos of the crash site betrayed the personal steps she took to ensure that no photos would leak to the public.
“Mrs. Bryant personally went to the Sheriff’s office on January 26th and requested that the area be designated a no-fly zone and protected from photographers. This was of critical importance to her as she desired to protect the dignity of all the victims, and their families,” said Robb, reports the news agency.
“First responders should be trustworthy. It is inexcusable and deplorable that some deputies from the Lost Hills Sheriff’s substation, other surrounding substations and LAFD would allegedly breach their duty,” said Robb.