"I am devasted and heartbroken by the conduct of those first responders," L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said

By Robyn Merrett
March 03, 2020 12:59 AM
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Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva is both shocked and disappointed in the group of his deputies who took and shared horrific photos of Kobe Bryant‘s helicopter crash site.

During a video interview with reporters — shared by ABC 7 — Villanueva said 8 deputies are believed to be involved in the incident.

After the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department was made aware of the photos, Villanueva said the images were deleted and that he had not personally seen them.

In response, Villanueva said he was “shocked,” calling it a “punch to the gut.”

“It was such a hard scene, dealing with the families first hand at Lost Hills station. All three families were there except for the pilot’s family. They were all present and we’re reassuring them [that] we’re doing everything possible and then to find out, you know, days later that this happened… it’s just a sense of betrayal,” Villanueva told reporters.

According to the sheriff, none of the deputies should have taken photos of the Jan. 26 crash — which not only claimed the life of Bryant, but also his 13-year-old daughter Gianna as well as 13-year-old Payton Chester, Sarah Chester, 46, 14-year-old Alyssa Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, 46, John Altobelli, 56, Christina Mauser, 38, and pilot Ara Zobayan, 50 — as only those with the county coroner’s office and investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board were authorized to photograph the scene.

“That is the only two groups of people. Anybody outside of that would be unauthorized. They’d be illicit photos,” Villanueva told reporters.

Gianna and Kobe Bryant
Ethan Miller/Getty

At this time, the 8 deputies are under investigation.

During Villanueva’s interview with NBC’s Today Show, he confirmed that the incident was brought to the attention of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department a few days following the fatal crash when a deputy trainee was allegedly seen showing the inappropriate photos at a bar.

Someone overheard the conversation and alerted authorities, he said.

Villanueva further expressed dismay to the Today Show saying, “I am devastated and heartbroken by the conduct of those first responders who had the responsibility to protect the dignity and privacy of the victims who perished in the tragic helicopter crash in Calabasas.”

Villanueva’s statements come after Bryant’s widow Vanessa and her legal team spoke out about allegations of the shared photos.

“Our client, Vanessa Bryant, is absolutely devastated by allegations that deputies from the Lost Hills Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Los Angeles County Fire Department publicly disseminated photos from the helicopter crash site,” her lawyer, Gary C. Robb, said in a statement on Sunday.

“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,” Robb said. “This was of critical importance to her as she desired to protect the dignity of all the victims, and their families. At that time, 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 honor those requests.”

The Altobelli family
Facebook (2); Orange Coast College/Twitter

“First responders should be trustworthy,” Robb added. “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. This is an unspeakable violation of human decency, respect, and of the privacy rights of the victims and their families. 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. We are requesting an Internal Affairs investigation of these alleged incidents.”

The statement concluded, “Mrs. Bryant is grateful to the individual who filed an online complaint exposing these acts of injustice, and for the choice to protect human dignity.”

Vanessa also shared the statement on her Instagram page.

“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 Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office said in a statement. “The Sheriff is deeply disturbed at the thought deputies could allegedly engage in such an insensitive act. A thorough investigation will be conducted by the Department, with the number one priority of protecting the dignity and privacy of the victims and their families.”

If you would like to help the families of the victims of the crash, consider donating to the Mamba on Three Fund. Contributions to the Mamba Sports Foundation will help support youth sports.