L.A. Sheriff ordered Kobe Bryant crash site photos deleted, prompting concerns about destruction of evidence

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva acknowledged on Monday that he ordered deputies to delete photos taken at the site of the helicopter crash that claimed the lives of Kobe and Gianna Bryant and seven others.

Villanueva told NBC4 in Los Angeles that the intent was to halt distribution of the images. But the Los Angeles Times reports that the order has prompted concerns over destruction of evidence within the department.

The Times reported that the department ordered the deletion of the photos last week in an effort to keep the matter quiet.

31 PHOTOS
Celebration of life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant
See Gallery
Celebration of life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant
People arrive to attend the "Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant" service at Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles on February 24, 2020. - Kobe Bryant, 41, and 13-year-old Gianna were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in the rugged hills west of Los Angeles on January 26. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
Kobe Bryant's wife Vanessa Bryant arrives to speak during the "Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant" service at Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles on February 24, 2020. - Kobe Bryant, 41, and 13-year-old Gianna were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in the rugged hills west of Los Angeles on January 26. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
People arrive to attend the "Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant" service at Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles on February 24, 2020. - Kobe Bryant, 41, and 13-year-old Gianna were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in the rugged hills west of Los Angeles on January 26. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
Former NBA player Michael Jordan cries while speaking during a celebration of life for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Shaquille O'Neal speaks during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Alicia Keys reacts after performing during a celebration of life for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Vanessa Bryant speaks during a celebration of life for her husband Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Los Angeles Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka speaks during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Christina Aguilera performs during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers attends The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Former Los Angeles Laker Metta World Peace attends The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Former coach Phil Jackson attends The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LL Cool J, middle, watches during a celebration of life for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Kobe Bryant's parents Joe and Pam Bryant arrive for a celebration of life for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Kobe Bryant's parents Joe and Pam Bryant arrive for a celebration of life for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: TV personality Jimmy Kimmel speaks during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: TV personality Jimmy Kimmel speaks during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
People arrive to attend the "Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant" service at Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles on February 24, 2020. - Kobe Bryant, 41, and 13-year-old Gianna were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in the rugged hills west of Los Angeles on January 26. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Jerry West and Steve Ballmer attend The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Vanessa Bryant speaks during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Vanessa Bryant speaks during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Vanessa Bryant speaks during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Bill Russell, James Harden and Russell Westbrook attend The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Vanessa Bryant is helped off the stage by former NBA player Michael Jordan after speaking during a celebration of life for her husband Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Bill Russell attends The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union attend The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Kareem Abdul Jabar during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez depart after The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Snoop Dogg attends The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kobe Bryant's Lakers jerseys are displayed during the "Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant" service at Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles on February 24, 2020. - Kobe Bryant, 41, and 13-year-old Gianna were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in the rugged hills west of Los Angeles on January 26. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
A mural sits in a parking lot as fans look toward the Staples Center before a public memorial for former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in Los Angeles, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

What happened?

News broke on Thursday that deputies allegedly took graphic photographs at the crash site on their phones and shared the images in personal settings. The photos were not leaked to the public.

Villanueva acknowledged on Monday that he ordered eight deputies to delete those images.

“That was my No. 1 priority, was to make sure those photos no longer exist,” Villanueva told NBC4. “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.”

Villanueva said that his department was alerted to the photos by a tipster who overheard a conversation between a bartender and a trainee deputy who claimed to have photos from the scene.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva says he ordered deputies to delete photos from the Bryant crime scene. (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

Vanessa Bryant’s attorney called for discipline

Bryant’s widow Vanessa Bryant was “absolutely devastated” by the reports of the photos being shared, according to a statement from her lawyer Gary Robb.

“This is an unspeakable violation of human decency, respect and of the privacy rights of the victims and their families,” the statement read. “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: Deputies not punished

Villanueva declined to identify the deputies to NBC4. He said that an investigation into the matter remained open, but that nobody had been relieved of their duties.

"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 somehow made their way into the public domain,” Villanueva said. “And that's definitely what we do not want.”

He also said that he intends to approach the California legislature about enacting a law prohibiting unauthorized photos from accident scenes. He said that his department doesn’t have a rule prohibiting the practice, but that he plans to change that.

Report: Formal investigation procedures not followed

Public safety sources told the Times that procedure calls for a formal inquiry and potential Internal Affairs investigation for a complaint like this one.

Those sources said that deputies were instead ordered to delete the photos with a promise that they would not face any discipline if they did.

 

Read Full Story