Vanessa Bryant has sued Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and his department over photos that were taken at the site of the January helicopter crash that killed her husband Kobe, daughter Gianna and seven others.
“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. The deputies took these photos for their own personal gratification,” the lawsuit, filed in L.A. County Superior Court last week, said.
The suit then pointed to reporting from the Los Angeles Times, which found that after a bartender made a formal complaint that a deputy had been showing off the photos at a bar in Norwalk, Villanueva told they would not be disciplined if they deleted the photos.
“Upon learning that his deputies had taken and shared the gratuitous photos, which plainly violate the victims’ families’ constitutional rights to control images of their loved ones’ remains, Sheriff Villanueva did not inform the families, initiate an investigation, or inspect the deputies’ phones to determine whether and how the photos had been shared,” the suit said. “He instead directed a cover-up, summoning the deputies to the Lost Hills station and telling them that, if they deleted the photos, they would face no discipline.”
“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 said. “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.”
Bryant is seeking unspecified damages and a jury trial.
“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,” a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department told TheWrap in a statement.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.