The pilot almost certainly fucked up but people are making too much hay about the fact that the Sheriff's had 'grounded' their helicopters due to the weather.
Special VFR is not all that special. Pilots use it all the time in marginal weather conditions with no adverse issues. The Sheriff's Office has a different mission that is generally done at a lower altitude and thus, requires a little more safety margin than general or commercial aviation.
Where the pilot probably fucked up is not realizing that he had actually lost sight of the ground and immediately transitioning to instrument flight. The S-76 is almost certainly rated for it as was the pilot. He most likely suffered spatial disorientation and inadvertently allowed the aircraft to begin an unrecoverable rate of descent. I think that the investigation will show that in the last seconds of the flight he made some corrective action (pulled the nose up, increased power, etc.) after passing through a height that allowed him to see the ground again, but didn't have the altitude to recover.
And it's highly doubtful that he would have asked Kobe's permission to go back. If he felt it was too dangerous to continue, as the pilot in command he most likely would have made a unilateral decision to turn back. You don't poll the passengers on a safety issue.
special vfr isnt all that special but he clearly was not flying in special vfr conditions.
it isnt vfr of ifr killing people, it is always a vfr flight flying vmc into imc. you're poking through the clouds looking for a hole and while you're barely catching a slice of ground you see nothing. if you're behind the curve there is no time to recover, attitude indicators toppling, ball fighting it's way out of the turn and bank, airspeed rapidly increasing scary scary shit.
if I understand it correctly he cancelled his ifr clearance and went to special vfr so he could scudrun a bunch of people in. If you made a checklist of how to get into a cfit accident you could reliably base that off what pic did here.
as far as the sheriff's I couldn't agree more. different flight operations have different risk profiles and different operational restrictions, what might be allowed for the sheriff operation might legally be allowed by a contractor so it sounds bad that he flew when the sherrifs didnt but it doesn't really mean anything. he could have chose to keepndlying ifr and if he was running out of fuel he could have declared an emergency and get cleared by ATC to do whatever he wants.