Vanessa Bryant sues sheriff's office over crash photos

Field Level Media/Reuters

Posted at Sep 23 2020 09:04 AM | Updated as of Sep 23 2020 10:30 AM

Vanessa Bryant sues sheriff's office over crash photos 1
Kobe Bryant's wife Vanessa Bryant speaks during the "Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant" service at Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles in this February 24, 2020 file photo. Frederic J. Brown, AFP

Vanessa Bryant has sued the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, contending deputies shared photos of the helicopter crash in which her husband, basketball legend Kobe Bryant, and their teenage daughter died in January.

The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages for negligence, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Kobe Bryant, 13-year-old Gianna Bryant and seven others were killed Jan. 26 when the helicopter they were riding in crashed in Calabasas, Calif., en route to a youth basketball tournament.

In May, Vanessa Bryant filed a claim, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, against the department. 

In the claim, Vanessa Bryant contended that Sheriff Alex Villanueva "personally assured her" that the family's privacy would be protected as it related to the crash site.

"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," according to the claim. 

"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."

In the lawsuit, Vanessa Bryant alleges that one of the deputes shared the crash-site photos with a woman at a bar in suburban Norwalk. 

After a bartender reported what he witnessed to the sheriff's department, Villanueva went to the sheriff's substation that handled the crash and told the deputies they wouldn't be disciplined if they deleted the photos, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

It was only after the Times reported the existence of the photos earlier this year that the department acknowledged an investigation, Vanessa Bryant's original claim said.

USA Today reported that social media users have cautioned Vanessa Bryant that photos of the remains of her late husband and daughter exist online.

"Mrs. Bryant's fear has been exacerbated by the fact that, despite knowing about the photos within days of the crash, Sheriff Villanueva took none of the steps that a reasonable supervisor (let alone a highly-trained professional investigator) would take to prevent dissemination of harmful photos ... it is impossible to rule out that the photos will surface and go viral online. This uncertainty has caused Mrs. Bryant severe stress and anguish," the lawsuit reads, per USA Today.