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Los Angeles County sheriff says he ordered deputies to delete Kobe Bryant crash photos

Sheriff Alex Villanueva said that the sheriff's department does not have a "specific" policy about taking photos on personal cellphones but that that may change.
Image:
Firefighters work at the scene of a helicopter crash where Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven other people were killed in Calabasas, California, on Jan. 26, 2020.Mark J. Terrill / AP file

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said that eight deputies are alleged to have taken or shared photos of the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash scene and that he ordered the photos deleted.

"That was my Number 1 priority, was to make sure those photos no longer exist," Villanueva told NBC News. "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."

The sheriff said he learned the week of the crash that several deputies may have been involved.

"My gut reaction was I was just horrified," he said.

A lawyer for Bryant's widow, Vanessa Bryant, said Sunday that she was "absolutely devastated" by reports that deputies had shared graphic photos of the crash scene where her husband, their 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven other people were killed Jan. 26. They were traveling to a youth basketball tournament at Bryant's sports facility in Thousand Oaks.

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The lawyer, Gary C. Robb, said in the statement that Bryant went to the sheriff's office the day of the crash 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," the statement said.

Through her lawyer, Bryant demanded that those responsible "face the harshest possible discipline, and that their identities be brought to light, to ensure that the photos are not further disseminated."

The allegations were first reported last week by the Los Angeles Times, which cited two public safety sources with knowledge of the events. The Times reported that a citizen complained that a deputy was showing the images at a bar in Norwalk.

Villanueva told NBC News that his department received a tip with similar allegations. He said that an investigation is underway and that he has taken "appropriate administrative action."

Villanueva said that the sheriff's department does not have a "specific" policy about taking photos on personal cellphones but that that may change.

"We're redoing the entire policies, creating new ones that are very specific with teeth in them, up to putting a penalty of discharge for the violation of these policies," Villanueva said. "Just because of the sheer impact: the negative consequences to the organization on top of the harm that it causes to people in the public."