Vanessa Bryant files claim against LA County sheriff over Kobe photos

Vanessa Bryant filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department over deputies sharing "unauthorized" photos of the helicopter crash scene that killed her husband Kobe Bryant, her daughter and seven others.

According to the allegation, sheriff Alex Villanueva "personally assured him" that deputies were protecting the accident site to ensure their privacy.

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"In reality, however, no fewer than eight sheriff's delegates were at the scene taking pictures of children, parents and coaches killed on their cell phones," said the claim, which is a precursor to a lawsuit.

“As the department would later admit, there was no investigative purpose for deputies to take photos at the scene of the accident.

"Instead, deputies took pictures for personal purposes," added the claim.

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The claim also states that the department's response to the scandal was "grossly insufficient".

"Ms. Bryant was distressed to learn that the department did not initiate a formal investigation until after the LA Times released the story," she said.

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The document said that five deputies and three interns or deputies from the reserve took or shared photos of the scene.

The allegation alleged that the officers who took and shared the photos were responsible for negligence, intentional inflection of emotional suffering and invasion of their right to privacy.

The Sheriff's Department said it had not received the claim and declined to comment.

Villanueva could not be reached for comment.

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The Los Angeles Times reported for the first time that police officers shared photos taken at the accident site, near Calabasas, after someone filed a complaint in writing to the Sheriff's Department three days after the January 26 accident.

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A young deputy was showing horrible photos taken at the scene of the tragedy at the Baja California Bar & Grill in Norwalk, the complaint said.

For weeks, the Sheriff's Department leadership tried to hide the episode instead of following normal investigation protocols – even after determining that several other deputies had obtained photos.

Villanueva ordered deputies to discreetly delete the photos, a move that some department members and law experts said could result in the destruction of evidence.

After the revelations, a lawyer for Vanessa Bryant said she went to the sheriff's office after the accident and requested that the area be designated as a "no-fly zone" and protected by photographers.

Read too: Kobe Bryant enters the Basketball Hall of Fame 2020

"At that time, Sheriff Alex Villanueva ensured that all measures would be taken to protect the privacy of families, and we understand that he worked hard to honor these requests," said attorney Gary Robb.

He demanded that deputies be identified "to ensure that the photos are no longer released".

Robb called for an investigation into internal affairs over the allegations and "the toughest discipline possible" for those responsible.

He called the alleged behavior "unforgivable and deplorable".

"It is an indescribable violation of human decency, respect and the privacy rights of victims and their families," he said.

After the Times reported the scandal, Villanueva said he would start an investigation, which he asked the Office of the Inspector General to monitor.

Inspector General Max Huntsman offered to take over the investigation, as his office did in the past, when conflicts of interest arose.

"As you know, we are conducting an investigation into public allegations that the LASD command team ordered the destruction of evidence from photographs of accident scenes and suppressed the investigation before the matter was made public," said Huntsman in the letter.

The Sheriff's Department said on Friday that the internal affairs case "is still under investigation and is pending."

Earlier this week, a California lawmaker outraged by the scandal said he wanted to make it a crime for police to take unauthorized photos of those killed in accidents and crimes.

State Representative Mike Gipson, a Democrat, introduced legislation that would make him a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and $ 5,000 in fines for the rescuer to use a smartphone or other device to photograph a deceased person for any purpose other than are official law enforcement businesses.

(tca / dpa / NAN)

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