After Kobe Bryant's death, Calif. lawmakers propose criminalizing photos of victims

A proposed bill would impose a penalty of up to a year in jail and $5,000 in fines for first responders who take unauthorized photos of crime or accident victims


By Patrick McGreevy
Los Angeles Times

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Outraged by allegations that Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies shared photos from the site of a helicopter crash that killed Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others, a California lawmaker wants to make it a crime for law enforcement officers to take unauthorized photographs of those killed in accidents and crimes.

Democratic state Assemblyman Mike Gipson of Carson has introduced legislation that would make it a misdemeanor with punishment of up to a year in jail and as much as $5,000 in fines for a first responder to use a smartphone or other device to photograph a deceased person for any purpose other than official law enforcement business.

Fans gather at a memorial for the late Kobe Bryant in front of Staples Center in Los Angeles Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020. After allegations that sheriff's deputies took unauthorized photographs at the site of the helicopter crash that killed Bryant in January, California lawmakers seek to criminalize photos taken of crime or accident victims by first responders that aren't taken for official purposes.
Fans gather at a memorial for the late Kobe Bryant in front of Staples Center in Los Angeles Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020. After allegations that sheriff's deputies took unauthorized photographs at the site of the helicopter crash that killed Bryant in January, California lawmakers seek to criminalize photos taken of crime or accident victims by first responders that aren't taken for official purposes. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

“Our first responders, when responding to an emergency, should not be taking very sensitive photographs … for their own gain, for their own pleasure,” Gipson said Tuesday. “It was unconscionable. It’s not right.”

Assembly Bill 2655, which was introduced this week, would outlaw acts that violate the privacy of deceased victims and apply to all first responders acting under color of authority, including law enforcement officers, paramedics, dispatchers, firefighters and medical examiners.

The bill would also allow a search warrant to be issued on grounds that the property being seized contains evidence that a first responder has taken unauthorized photographs at crime scenes and accidents in an invasion of privacy.

Bryant was killed along with eight others, including his teenage daughter, when a helicopter taking them to a youth basketball tournament crashed in the hills of Calabasas on Jan. 26.

Three days after the accident, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy was at a Norwalk bar and allegedly showed patrons some gruesome photos taken at the crash site. That resulted in a citizen complaint to the department.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva later acknowledged that the department ordered deputies to delete the images, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Amid public outrage, the department launched an investigation of the sharing of the photographs, and Villanueva asked his agency’s chief watchdog to monitor the inquiry.

In addition, Villanueva asked the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission to provide input as his agency drafts a new policy regarding the taking and distribution of photographs and recordings by on-duty personnel.

An attorney for Vanessa Bryant, the widow of Kobe Bryant and mother of Gianna Bryant, 13, who was also killed in the crash, called the alleged behavior by deputies “inexcusable and deplorable.”

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©2020 Los Angeles Times

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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