Vanessa Bryant sues L.A. sheriff over helicopter crash photos
Published Tuesday, September 22, 2020 2:31PM EDT Last Updated Tuesday, September 22, 2020 3:23PM EDT
In this March 4, 2018, file photo, Vanessa Laine Bryant, left, and Kobe Bryant arrive at the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)
LOS ANGELES -- Vanessa Bryant, the widow of basketball star Kobe Bryant, has filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County sheriff claiming deputies shared unauthorized photos of the crash that killed her husband, their 13-year-old daughter and seven others.
After the Jan. 26 crash, reports surfaced that graphic photos of the victims were being shared. Vanessa Bryant was “shocked and devastated” by the reports, the lawsuit states.
The suit seeks damages for negligence, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The victims died when the helicopter crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, northwest of Los Angeles, during cloudy weather. They were travelling to a youth basketball tournament at Bryant's sports facility in Thousand Oaks. The National Transportation Safety Board has not concluded what caused the crash on the outskirts of Los Angeles County but said there was no sign of mechanical failure in the Sikorsky S-76. helicopter.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva previously told news media that eight deputies took or shared graphic photos of the scene and he ordered the images deleted. The sheriff said the department has a policy against taking and sharing crime scene photos, but it does not apply to accident scenes.
“That was my No. 1 priority, was to make sure those photos no longer exist,” Villanueva previously told NBC News. “We identified the deputies involved, they came to the station on their own and had admitted they had taken them and they had deleted them. And we're content that those involved did that.”
Vanessa Bryant's lawsuit alleges the sheriff's actions constituted a “coverup” of the misconduct. The suit claims the photos could still exist.
“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,” the lawsuit states.
The sheriff's department did not immediately have a comment Tuesday. Vanessa Bryant's attorney, Gary C. Robb, declined to comment.
The Los Angeles Times first reported the allegations that the graphic photos had been taken and disseminated in February.
Bryant previously filed a claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, in May. The suit was filed Thursday.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has not yet signed a bill that would make it a misdemeanour for first responders to take unauthorized photos of deceased people at the scene of an accident or crime. The legislation was prompted by the crash photos.
Separately, Vanessa Bryant has also filed a lawsuit alleging the helicopter's pilot, Ara Zobayan, was careless and negligent to fly in the fog and should have aborted the flight.
The brother of the pilot has said in a court filing that Bryant knew the risks of helicopter flying and his survivors aren't entitled to damages from the pilot's estate, while the helicopter company, Island Express, says it is not responsible for damages, calling the crash, among other things, “an act of God” and “an unavoidable accident” that was beyond its control.