Vanessa Bryant Files Legal Claim Against Los Angeles Sheriff's Department For Leaking Photos Of Kobe Bryant Crash Site
There was widespread outrage earlier this year after it was reported that multiple officers shared photos of the crash with their friends.
May 08, 2020 at 7:44 pm
Vanessa Bryant filed a lawsuit on Friday against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after multiple officers were accused of taking and sharing dozens of photos of the helicopter crash that took the lives of Kobe Bryant and their 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant.
In the weeks following the tragic January 26 crash, the Los Angeles Times reported a number of instances where officers disseminated sensitive photos to friends and media.
"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," a legal claim obtained by People stated.
"In reality, however, no fewer than eight sheriff’s deputies were at the scene snapping cell-phone photos of the dead children, parents, and coaches. 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," the legal claim read.
In addition to the sheriff's deputies taking and sharing the photos, two firefighters took photos of the crash site. The situation has prompted California lawmakers to propose a bill making it illegal for any first responders to take or share photos of bodies at a crime scene. According to KCAL9, the bill is a direct response to the outrage over the conduct of officers within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Reports from the LA Times indicated one officer was heard happily showing off photos of the crash site at a bar during a date.
"He tried to impress a girl by showing her the photos," a bartender, who filed a citizen's complaint about the incident, told TMZ. The story took on a new life when it was revealed that senior sheriff’s department officials tried to get the officers to quietly delete the photos in an effort to hide the situation from Bryant and the press.
According to the LA Times, senior officers told their staff in February that as long as the photos were deleted no punishments would be handed out. In March, Bryant released a powerful statement criticizing the Lost Hills Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
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CORRECTED: The department at issue is the Los Angeles County Fire Dept (LACoFD) NOT the LAFD KANSAS CITY, Mo.--(repost: BUSINESS WIRE)--Statement From Gary C. Robb, Legal Counsel on Behalf of His Client, Vanessa Bryant: Our client, Vanessa Bryant, is absolutely devastated by allegations that deputies from the Lost Hills Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Los Angeles County Fire Department publicly disseminated photos from the helicopter crash site. Mrs. Bryant personally went to the Sheriff’s office on January 26th and requested that the area be designated a no-fly zone and protected from photographers. This was of critical importance to her as she desired to protect the dignity of all the victims, and their families. At that time, Sheriff Alex Villanueva assured us all measures would be put in place to protect the families’ privacy, and it is our understanding that he has worked hard to honor those requests. First responders should be trustworthy. It is inexcusable and deplorable that some deputies from the Lost Hills Sheriff’s substation, other surrounding substations and LACOFD would allegedly breach their duty. This is an unspeakable violation of human decency, respect, and of the privacy rights of the victims and their families. We are demanding that those responsible for these alleged actions face the harshest possible discipline, and that their identities be brought to light, to ensure that the photos are not further disseminated. We are requesting an Internal Affairs investigation of these alleged incidents. Mrs. Bryant is grateful to the individual who filed an online complaint exposing these acts of injustice, and for the choice to protect human dignity. We ask that anyone else who has information as to the facts underlying these alleged grievous and shameful incidents contact our office at 816–474-8080 or email via www.robbrobb.com
"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," Friday's filing said.
"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,” the filing continued.
In another section of the filing, Bryant said she is worried there are more photos floating around the internet. In the initial LA Times story, multiple sources told their reporters that in addition to the complaint filed by the bartender, other people had seen photos both online and in person.
According to their story, first responders were sharing the photos widely.
"Mrs. Bryant is deeply worried that all copies of the sheriff’s deputies’ photos have not been accounted for, and that it is only a matter of time before she or her daughters encounter them on the Internet," the recent filing added.
"Upon information or belief, sheriff’s deputies shared photos of victims’ remains with individuals unaffiliated with the investigation for their own excitement and sense of self- importance, including one instance where a deputy shared photos to impress a woman at a bar," the filing read.
At the time, Sheriff Alex Villanueva released a statement saying their department had started an investigation into the photos, but he has faced more criticism from the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission for initially downplaying the significance of the photos.
"The sheriff’s deputies who took and shared the photos are thus liable for negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of Mrs. Bryant’s right to privacy in the death images of her loved ones," Bryant's legal team said on Friday.
Kobe and Gianna lost their lives in the crash in addition to Payton Chester,13; Sarah Chester, 46; Alyssa Altobelli,14; Keri Altobelli, 46; John Altobelli, 56; Christina Mauser, 38; and the helicopter's pilot Ara Zobayan, 50.
"This [filing] solely is about enforcing accountability, protecting the victims and making sure no one ever has to deal with this conduct in the future. ... The Deputies in this case betrayed that sacred trust. This claim is intended to hold the Sheriff’s Department accountable and to prevent future misconduct," a Bryant family spokesperson told People in a statement.