Sacramento, CA – A state lawmaker from Los Angeles introduced legislation on Monday that would make it a crime for first responders to take pictures at an accident or crime scene unless it is specifically needed for law enforcement purposes.
Democratic State Assemblyman Mike Gipson introduced the legislation after several pictures from basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s January helicopter crash were leaked to the media, according to The Hill.
Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, died on Jan. 26 when the helicopter flying them and seven friends to a basketball tournament at Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks crashed into a Los Angeles County hillside.
After pictures of the crash site were leaked to the media just hours later, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva launched an investigation into who was responsible for taking the leaked pictures.
The sheriff announced on March 2 that the investigation had determined that five full-time deputies and three reservists were involved in taking graphic photographs of the mangled wreckage, KMSB reported.
“I was horrified,” Sheriff Villanueva said. “I just felt betrayed by my own deputies.”
He said the deputies were sent to the scene to secure the crash site – not to take photographs.
“They had no place to be taking any photographs of anything,” Sheriff Villanueva told KMSB.
According to KCAL, one of the deputies who took photos of the wreckage and human remains was a trainee.
He allegedly later showed the images to a girl he was trying to impress at a bar.
The bartender overheard the exchange and filed an online complaint about what the deputy had allegedly done, KCAL reported.
All eight of the involved deputies are under internal investigation, according to KMSB.
They have allegedly told investigators that they deleted the crash site photos from their phones after Sheriff Villanueva ordered that any unauthorized pictures be destroyed.
The only people authorized to take pictures of the crash scene were personnel from the coroner’s office and the National Transportation Safety Board, KMSB reported.
However, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) policy does not specifically prohibit first responders from taking photos of accident scenes, Sheriff Villanueva acknowledged.
He said he plans to push for a law change that would allow for first responders to be criminally investigated in similar incidents in the future.
Kobe Bryant’s wife, Vanessa Bryant, had personally traveled to the LCSO on Jan. 26 to request that “the area be designated a no-fly zone and protected from photographers,” her attorney, Gary Robb, told KMSB. “This was of critical importance to her as she desired to protect the dignity of all the victims, and their families.”
Sheriff Villanueva said he has apologized to the victims’ families.
California Assembly Bill 2655, titled “Invasion of Privacy: First Responders,” introduced on May 4, would make it a misdemeanor for a first responder “who responds to the scene of an accident or crime to use a personal electronic device or a device belonging to their employing agency to capture the image of a deceased person for any purpose other than an official law enforcement purpose or for a genuine public interest.”
If passed, Gibson’s new law would make taking unauthorized accident and crime scene photos punishable by up to $5,000 in fines and up to one year in the county jail.
“First responders” are defined in the legislation as state and local law enforcement, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, rescue service personnel, dispatchers, emergency managers, firefighters, coroners, or employees of a coroner*.*
“Our first responders, when responding to an emergency, should not be taking very sensitive photographs … for their own gain, for their own pleasure,” the bill’s author said. “It was unconscionable. It’s not right.”
Sheriff Villanueva has also asked the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission to help develop a new policy to prohibit deputies from taking and sharing accident and crime scene photos in the future, The Hill reported.