Widow of Kobe Bryant Sues LA Sheriff Over Officer Photos of Crash Site

FILE – This Feb. 26, 2018 file photo shows Vanessa Bryant, from left, Kobe Bryant, Natalia Bryant and Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant at the world premiere of “A Wrinkle in Time” in Los Angeles. Bryant, a five-time NBA champion and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, died in a helicopter crash in California in January 2020. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Vanessa Bryant, the widow of NBA star Kobe Bryant, filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County sheriff claiming his agency knew deputies shared photos of the helicopter crash site where her husband, their 13-year-old daughter and seven others died this past January.

According to the complaint, which was filed last week in Los Angeles County Superior Court but made public Tuesday, the deputies shared the photos with their colleagues.

One deputy also tried to impress a woman at a bar by showing the photos to her, the lawsuit says. After this incident, a bartender filed a written complaint with the agency.

“He was working the day the helicopter went down and took pictures of the crash site and bodies,” the bartender allegedly wrote in her complaint.

Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven other passengers died in a helicopter crash Jan. 26 in the Santa Monica Mountains north of downtown LA.

The complaint claims that LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva did not notify Vanessa Bryant or the other passengers’ families that images of the victims’ bodies were being shared by deputies.

Villanueva did not initiate an investigation, the lawsuit says, or inspect the deputies’ phones to see if the photos were shared.

“He instead directed a cover-up, summoning the deputies to the Lost Hills station and telling them that, if they deleted the photos, they would face no discipline,” the 22-page complaint states. “The deputies purported to accept the sheriff’s offer, receiving a free pass in exchange for destroying evidence of their misconduct.”

The agreement between Villanueva and the deputies was made public in a Los Angeles Times report in February. Villanueva later acknowledged ordering the deputies to delete the photos to avoid a formal investigation.

After learning of the photos, Bryant says she asked the sheriff’s department if she “should brace for pictures of her loved ones’ remains to surface on the internet.”

The sheriff’s department said it would need more time to respond to her request for more information due to the “unusual circumstance,” but in a follow-up letter said it was “unable to assist” and was not legally obligated to do so, the lawsuit claims.

According to the complaint, some people online claim to have seen the images.

“Mrs. Bryant feels ill at the thought of strangers gawking at images of her deceased husband and child, and she lives in fear that she or her children will one day confront horrific images of their loved ones online,” the lawsuit states.

The complaint goes on to say that the LA County Sheriff’s Department in the last decade has shown itself to be “among the least disciplined law enforcement organizations in the country.”

Bryant says the department did not train its employees regarding photographs of work-related scenes on personal cellphones. Eight deputies allegedly took photos of the dead at the crash site.

“In taking these photographs and at several points thereafter, the sheriff’s department has chosen to act reprehensibly, and it continues to demonstrate that it either does not understand or does not care about the pain it has caused,” the complaint says. “This lawsuit seeks to impose accountability for that.”

Bryant accuses the department of violating her Fourteenth Amendment rights and claims negligence, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

She is represented by attorney Luis Li with Munger, Tolles and Olson.

In February, Bryant sued the company that operated the helicopter in the fatal crash. Several of the other victims’ family members also sued Island Express Helicopters in April.

The sheriff’s department did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

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