Vanessa Bryant Sues L.A. County Sheriff's Department Over Crash Photos of Kobe and Gianna
By Antoinette Bueno
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images
Vanessa Bryant has filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and his department. The lawsuit alleges that eight sheriff's deputies took cell phone photos of the bodies of her late husband, Kobe Bryant, and her late daughter, Gianna Bryant, at the helicopter crash scene where they died for their personal use.
In May, Bryant filed a claim against the L.A. County Sheriff's Department for allegedly sharing photos of the Jan. 26 crash scene in Calabasas, California, that left nine people dead, including Kobe and Gianna. She then filed a lawsuit on Sept. 17, which seeks unspecified damages, including punitive damages, for negligence, invasion of privacy as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress.
In a statement to ET on Tuesday, the L.A. County Sheriff's Department noted, "Shortly following this tragic crash, Sheriff Villanueva sponsored legislation which now makes it a crime for public safety personnel to take and share non-official pictures of this nature. Due to the pending litigation, we are unable to offer further comment."
According to the lawsuit, in the aftermath of the helicopter crash, Villanueva met with some of the distraught family members of the victims at his station and assured them that his deputies were securing the crash site as onlookers began going to the accident scene. But the documents allege that multiple sheriff's deputies took photos of the victims' bodies with their cell phones.
"Faced with a scene of unimaginable loss, no fewer than eight sheriff's deputes pulled out their personal cell phones and snapped photos of the dead children, parents, and coaches," the court documents obtained by ET read. "The deputies took these photos for their own personal gratification. As the Sheriff's Department would later admit, there was no investigatory reason for deputies to be taking pictures of the victims' remains."
The documents allege that one deputy used his photos of the victims to impress a woman at a bar, which a bartender overheard and then subsequently filed a complaint with the Sheriff's Department. The documents allege that Villanueva then "directed a cover-up," telling the deputies that if they deleted their crash photos, they would face no discipline.
According to the documents, Bryant found out about the photos through a Los Angeles Times report in February and privately reached out to the Sheriff's Department to ask about the scope of the misconduct and if she should "brace for pictures of her loved ones' remains to surface on the internet." The documents state that she was later sent a letter saying the department was "unable to assist" with her questions.
"The Sheriff's Department's outrageous actions have caused Mrs. Bryant severe emotional distress and compounded the trauma of losing Kobe and Gianna," the documents read. "Ms. 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."
"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 documents continue. "This lawsuit seeks to hold accountability for that."
In March, Bryant's attorney condemned the alleged cell phone photos of the helicopter crash victims and called for those responsible to "face the harshest possible discipline" in a statement that was posted on Bryant's Instagram page.
"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," the statement reads in part. "First responders should be trustworthy. It is inexcusable and deplorable that some deputies from the Lost Hills Sheriff’s substation, other surrounding substations and LAFD 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."
Meanwhile, a representative for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department told ET at the time that the Sheriff was "deeply disturbed" over the allegations.
"The Sheriff’s Department is aware of recent media reports alleging deputies shared images from the January 26th, 2020 helicopter crash, which tragically claimed the lives of nine people," the statement reads. "The facts surrounding these allegations are currently under investigation, as are the effectiveness of existing policies and procedures. The Sheriff is deeply disturbed at the thought deputies could allegedly engage in such an insensitive act. A thorough investigation will be conducted by the Department, with the number one priority of protecting the dignity and privacy of the victims and their families."