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Vanessa Bryant and her lawyers are seeking to publicly release the names of four Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies who allegedly shared unauthorized photos of the helicopter crash that killed her husband, Kobe Bryant, her daughter Gianna, and seven others.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the names of the deputies, along with the LA County Fire Department, were added to Bryant's civil rights lawsuit against Los Angeles County and the sheriff's department last week. However, the names of the deputies have been redacted until a judge decides whether or not the names can be made public.
County lawyers are arguing that making the names public would make the deputies targets of "hackers" who want to make those crash scene photos public. Bryant's lawyers, led by former LA city prosecutor Luis Li, argue that there is absolutely no precedent for keeping the name of an accused officer private in a civil rights case.
The lawyers argued there is no compelling reason to hide the deputies’ identities, noting that the case cited as precedent by the county in its effort to hide the identities involves sexual harassment victims.
“Defendants try to equate the Deputy Defendants who shared photos of Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s remains with victims of sexual harassment and other abuse,” Li wrote in court papers.
Complaint details how photos spread
Bryant's complaint describes how the photos, which number between 25 and 100, allegedly spread from deputies to several others.
According to the Los Angeles Times, only one of deputies named in the suit is accused of taking the photos, while the other deputies allegedly received photos on their cell phones. According to the complaint, one of the deputies stored the photos on his personal cell phone and shared them with two others. Another deputy shared several photos of a child's remains with a deputy at the Santa Clarita station. One more deputy allegedly received photos two days after the crash and shared them with a sheriff's detective.
The actions of the deputy trainee named in the suit are what tipped off the Sheriff's Department to the photo issue. This deputy trainee allegedly shared the photos with his niece, then later on went to a bar and shared "gruesome" photos of the bodies of Bryant and a young girl with a woman and a bartender. The deputy trainee can be seen on bar security footage showing the photos to the bartender, zooming them in and out on his phone.
According to the suit, Sheriff Alex Villanueva allegedly called all those deputies to his office and told them that if they deleted the photos from their phones, they would not face any discipline. He allegedly did not tell internal affairs about the breach of privacy, and an internal investigation wasn't started until news of the photos was made public. Bryant's lawyers say that Villanueva's actions made a complete investigation "impossible." However, Villanueva has said that his instruction to delete the photos is what prevented them from spreading to the wider public.
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