Almost nine months after Kobe Bryant, his 13-year old daughter Gianna and seven others perished in a helicopter crash, the basketball legend’s widow Tuesday hit the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department with a scathing lawsuit over photographs taken by deputies at the accident site.
“The gratuitous images soon became talked about within the department, as deputies displayed them to colleagues in settings that had nothing to do with investigating the accident,” the complaint filed today in Los Angeles Superior Court says of the January 26 crash near Calabasas, CA. “One deputy even used his photos of the victims to try to impress a woman at a bar, bragging about how he had been at the crash site,” the filing continues, noting that a bartender who overheard the aforementioned bragging filed a complaint of his own with the department.
The department, Sheriff Alex Villanueva, and the county are named as defendants in Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit today.
“Mrs. 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,” reads the suit, which cites civil rights violations and negligence. Besides basketball protégé Gianna, the Bryants have three other daughters: Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and infant Capri.
“The Sheriff’s Department’s outrageous actions have caused Mrs. Bryant severe emotional distress and compounded the trauma of losing Kobe and Gianna,” the suit adds, accusing Villanueva of having “directed a cover-up.”
Describing in detail how she was consoled by Villanueva and personally promised that the area would be secured in the immediate hours following the fatal crash, the latest legal move from Vanessa Bryant seeks wide-ranging unspecified damages.
“The biggest threat to the sanctity of the victims’ remains proved to be the Sheriff’s department itself,” reads the suit. “Faced with a scene of unimaginable loss, no fewer than eight sheriff’s deputies at the crash site pulled out their personal cell phones and snapped photos of the dead children, parents and coaches.”
“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,” an LASD spokesperson said in response to today’s lawsuit. “Due to the pending litigation, we are unable to offer further comment.”
When news of the sickening photos first became public earlier this year, Villanueva promised that all the material would be deleted and those involved reprimanded. There has never been any public acknowledgment the latter ever occurred.
What we do know occurred is that the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs took the sheriff, two others and the department itself to court in June in a suit of their own to keep any probe into the crash photos scandal out of the public eye.
This most recent strafe on the scandal-plagued LASD comes as Vanessa Bryant got into a dust-up with Villanueva over his public stance that current Lakers star and Black Lives Matter supporter LeBron James should double the $175,000 reward for the shooting of two deputies in South LA earlier this month. In social media retweets and posts, Bryant called out the sheriff for his demand. She also wrote on Instagram: “Not all deputies are bad apples. Prayers for the two deputies that were shot.”
Today’s lawsuit also follows a wrongful death complaint Vanessa Bryant placed in the LASC docket on February 24 against Island Express Helicopters and pilot Ara Zobayan, who also died in the crash.
Vanessa Bryant is represented by attorneys Brad Brian of Munger, Tolles & Olson and Robb & Robb’s Gary Robb.
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