Investigate handling of Kobe Bryant’s death

Officers at scene acted more like gawkers or applicants for photography jobs at a supermarket tabloid.

The Editorial Board
Sat, 23 May 2020 04:00:00 GMT

link -- with images

Allegations in a lawsuit filed by Kobe Bryant’s wife, Vanessa Bryant, and evidence already publicly available, demand an investigation of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department by an independent outside authority.

Ms. Bryant lost her husband, Kobe, and daughter, Gianna, in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash. Seven others also died.

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Deputies sent to the scene allegedly weren’t focused on their jobs, but instead several snapped photos of the deceased, some of them later sharing the pictures with others, including one deputy who is said to have shared the gruesome photos at a bar. Thankfully, a witness to this despicable act filed a formal complaint.

Sheriff Alex Villenueva didn’t handle the allegations properly. Instead, a whitewash was conducted — including allegations that the sheriff told deputies to delete the photos to avoid facing discipline, as if that solved the problem. If the sheriff’s destruction order is proved true, it could constitute destruction of evidence.

Required, in this case, was suspension pending a formal investigation and the harshest possible penalties against the involved deputies if the investigation warranted. How this incident did not raise the reddest of flags to the sheriff is incomprehensible.

While a First Amendment right to take photographs in public places exists, that does not mean law enforcement officers on duty have a right to take pictures at a secluded scene that have no investigatory purpose.

Ms. Bryant herself asked the sheriff’s department to secure the scene and was promised that would be done by department officials. The only officials who should have been permitted to take photos at the scene were from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office and National Transportation Safety Board.

Instead of ordering an investigation, the sheriff threw the integrity of himself and his department into doubt. If the investigation of a basketball star’s death was handled in this manner, it can only be imagined what happens in other investigations — whether deaths or crimes.

The role of law enforcement in death investigations should not be to be gawkers or applicants for photography jobs at a supermarket tabloid. The role of a sheriff includes the responsibility to investigate, or request an investigation, of misconduct in his department.

In this case neither happened. It’s time that an independent investigation be ordered by county and state officials.