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While Los Angeles County condemned its employees who shared photos from the scene of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others last year, it said Monday that the lawsuit filed by Kobe’s widow is not viable.
Vanessa Bryant filed a lawsuit last year against the county, accusing four Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies of sharing photos of Bryant and the eight others who were killed in January 2020. The county, in an official court filing obtained by USA Today, condemned the actions of its personnel who shared photos.
“The County does not condone this showing of accident site photographs and has taken corrective personnel actions accordingly,” the filing said, via USA today. “This does not mean, however, that Plaintiff has viable legal claims.”
The county offered “its deepest sympathies and condolences” to Bryant and her family in the filing, but said that the “case is not about that tragedy. It is about accident site photographs.”
Vanessa Bryant names officers in lawsuit
Via Instagram in March, Bryant named the four Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies who allegedly took and shared the graphic photos from the helicopter crash that killed Kobe, their daughter Gianna and seven others. Her post detailed disturbing allegations about what those deputies did with the photos.
According to the lawsuit, officer Joey Cruz allegedly showed photos of the accident and “boasted” about them to a bartender two days after the crash. That bartender then allegedly approached another table of guests and told them what happened — something one of those customers described as “very, very disturbing” and led them to file a complaint with the Sheriff’s department immediately after leaving the restaurant.
Cruz also allegedly showed the photos to his niece, another bar patron and allegedly made “a crude remark about the state of the victims’ remains” while doing so.
Another officer, Deputy Michael Russell, allegedly sent photos from the crash to a friend he plays video games with.
Bryant alleged that photos spread to at least 10 members of the department within 48 hours of the crash, and that one deputy took between 25 and 100 photos on his personal phone.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva allegedly told those deputies who took the photos that they wouldn’t face discipline if they deleted the photos, and didn’t tell internal affairs about the incident until after news of the photos was made public.
Despite her allegations, Los Angeles County said in the court filing that because the photos weren’t posted online or given to a media outlet that Vanessa’s lawsuit isn’t valid. The county said that “showing an accident site photograph to one member of the public cannot constitute an invasion of Plaintiff’s privacy” under California law.
“They were not publicly disseminated,” the county said, via USA Today. “Plaintiff brought this lawsuit because she is concerned that photographs may be publicly disseminated. There is no legal basis for suing Defendants for hypothetical harm.”
According to USA Today, Bryant and her attorney plan to conduct “more than forty depositions, forensic examinations of electronic devices and cloud-based storage accounts in the possession of Defendants and third parties, and expert reports and depositions.” They have also served demands to inspect the officers’ phones and cloud storage.
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