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Vanessa Bryant is suing the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department over photos leaked by first responders from the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash site.
People obtained a copy of the legal claim filed Friday, and a spokesperson for Kobe Bryant’s widow confirmed the lawsuit. The claim seeks damages for emotional distress and mental anguish after eight members of the sheriff’s department took graphic photos from the crash site on their personal phones, some of which were shared in personal settings.
Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles on Jan. 26.
“No fewer than eight sheriff’s deputies were at the scene snapping cell-phone photos of the dead children, parents, and coaches," the claim reads, per People. "As the Department would later admit, there was no investigative purpose for deputies to take pictures at the crash site. Rather, the deputies took photos for their own personal purposes.”
Deputies weren’t punished
Sheriff Alex Villanueva had previously told reporters that only the county coroner’s office and National Transportation Safety Board investigators were permitted to take photos of the crash scene.
"That is the only two groups of people," Villanueva said in March. "Anybody outside of that would be unauthorized. They’d be illicit photos."
Villanueva also confirmed that deputies had taken and shared the photos after the Los Angeles Times broke the story. Villanueva said on March 2 that his department had identified those deputies and ordered them to delete the images from their devices.
The order prompted concerns over destruction of evidence as the deputies went unpunished. Villanueva argued in an interview with NBC4 that punishing the deputies would have increased the risk that the photos went public.
"Had we done the original, usual routine, which was relieve everybody of duty and everybody lawyers up and all that, that would increase the odds 10-fold that those photos would have somehow made their way into the public domain,” Villanueva said. “And that's definitely what we do not want.”
Sheriff: Deputy talked about photos at a bar
Villanueva said that his department was alerted to the photos by a tipster who overheard a conversation between a bartender and a trainee deputy who claimed to have photos from the scene.
Public safety sources told the Times in February that procedure calls for a formal inquiry and potential Internal Affairs investigation for a complaint like this one. That procedure was reportedly not followed.
After the Times report, Vanessa demanded through her attorney Gary Robb “that those responsible for these alleged actions face the harshest possible discipline and that their identities be brought to light.” The statement provided on Feb. 29 foreshadowed Friday’s legal action.
Bryant: Investigation didn’t go far enough
Vanessa’s filing criticizes the department for its handling of the investigation and for not disciplining the deputies who took the photos.
“Rather than formally investigate the allegations to identify the extent of dissemination and contain the spread of the photos, Department leadership reportedly told deputies that they would face no discipline if they just deleted the photos," the filing reads, per People.
“Mrs. Bryant was distressed to learn that the Department did not initiate a formal investigation until after the L.A. Times broke the story on or about February 28, and that the Department had taken few if any steps to contain the spread of the photos.”
Bryant: Photos are on the internet
Friday’s legal filing claims that Vanessa is aware that people have seen the photos on the internet and that she is concerned that her surviving daughters will come across grisly photos of their father and sister’s remains from the crash scene.
“Mrs. Bryant has suffered an immense tragedy by losing her husband and daughter; her grief has been compounded by the severe emotional distress caused by the sheriff’s deputies’ misconduct and the Sheriff’s Department’s mishandling of that misconduct,” the filing reads.
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