Photo by Antonio Ray Harvey
Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media
On May 20, the California Assembly Public Safety Committee approved a bill that would make it illegal for first responders to take pictures or record video of a deceased person at the scene of an accident or crime.
Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson (D-Los Angeles) authored the bill, AB 2655, titled the “Invasion of Privacy: First Responders” act.
AB 2655 is one of the few non-coronavirus-related bills that has moved in the legislature since the global pandemic began. Now that the Public Safety Committee has approved the legislation, it has been referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for review.
“No person, including our first responders, should ever take photos of a deceased person for their own personal gain,” Gipson reacted to his colleagues’ yay vote. “I am grateful that the Assembly Public Safety Committee agrees and helped move this bill forward.”
First responders like police officers, fire department personnel, emergency medical technicians, and medical examiners have special access to the scenes of accidents and other incidents involving deaths. Those public employees have many legitimate reasons to capture images of a deceased person, but AB 2655 draws a line, pushing the notion that obtaining photos for personal purposes exceeds the scope of their duties.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is sponsoring the legislation.
“I was very pleased our bill cleared its first hurdle in the Legislature today as it seeks to address a significant deficiency in current law and brings peace of mind to the families of accident victims,” Sheriff Villanueva said. “I look forward to its continued success through the process.”
The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department announced in March that eight of its deputies were responsible for sharing images taken at the site where retired NBA star Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna “GiGi” Bryant died in a helicopter crash.
Seven other people, including the pilot, also died in the fatal accident that happened on Jan. 26 in Calabasas, a city nestled in the hills northwest of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles County Fire Department also became the focus of the investigation of the photos that were posted online and in some public places like bars.
Existing law generally prohibits “the reproduction of any kind of photograph of the body, or any portion of the body, of a deceased person, taken by or for the coroner at the scene of death or in the course of a post mortem examination or autopsy, from being made or disseminated.”
If passed, AB 2655 would specifically make that prohibition a misdemeanor.
This bill would also authorize a search warrant to be issued on the grounds that “the property or things to be seized consists of evidence that tends to show that a first responder has engaged or is engaging in the crime established by AB 2655.”
On March 2, Sheriff Villanueva went on record to acknowledge that eight of his deputies participated in capturing and sharing graphic photos of the accident scene after the helicopter Bryant, his daughter and friends were traveling in crashed into a hillside on a foggy Sunday morning.
“When I first got word of this information I just felt devastated,” Villanueva responded to the allegations in March. “To have any action of our deputies compile (the families’) suffering, that breaks my heart. It’s a sense of betrayal because these are my own employees.”
A few days after Bryant’s death, U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA-30) introduced a bill in the United States Congress titled, “The Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant Helicopter Safety Act.” The legislation proposed tightening federal safety standards for helicopters implemented by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board.
The legislation would require that all helicopters be fitted with a Terrain Awareness and Warning System. Currently, these systems are recommended by the FAA but they are not enforced, Sherman said in a written statement. They cost between $25,000 to $40,000 per helicopter.
“Kobe Bryant’s helicopter did not have this system when it crashed Jan. 26,” Sherman stated. “Had this system been on the helicopter, it is likely the tragic crash could have been avoided.”
Other Assemblymembers who voted yes on AB 2655 are: Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), who is the chair of the Public Safety Committee; Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda); Wendy Carrillo (D-Boyle Heights): Tyler Diep (R-Westminster): Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles): Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles); and Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland).