The widow of Kobe Bryant made a simple request last year when she first learned that that her husband and daughter had died in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles. In a private meeting with Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, Vanessa Bryant told him, “If you can’t bring my husband and baby back, please make sure no one takes photographs of them. Please secure the area.” Villanueva promised her he would, according to a transcript of her testimony last month in a pretrial deposition. But now that issue is a big point of dispute in Bryant’s lawsuit against the county over photos of dead bodies from the crash scene.
On Monday, the two sides presented dueling arguments about this in a court document filed in federal court. It marks the latest flareup in Bryant’s lawsuit, which accuses county sheriff’s and fire department employees of improperly sharing photos of human remains from the crash scene. “Sheriff Villanueva was keeping his promise to Bryant by making sure no photos got out,” the county said in a court document filed Monday. “The deputies, on and before January 30, 2020, deleted the photos from their phones — months before this dispute. Within two days, LASD interviewed 28 deputies, reserve deputies, sergeants, and civilian volunteers. The department determined that all personnel who had taken, shared, or received crash site photos had, in fact, deleted them. No one had sent a photo to anyone outside LASD.”
Bryant’s filing Monday noted that law enforcement officials know that the “first step in investigating a complaint is to preserve evidence and that destroying evidence is improper.” “Yet that is exactly what Sheriff Villanueva himself ordered Department personnel to do after the Department received a citizen’s complaint that a Sheriff’s deputy was showing photos of the crash site at a bar in Norwalk,” her attorneys stated. After a sheriff’s captain questioned whether the deletions were lawful, the sheriff demoted him, according the court document. Bryant's attorneys also said that fire captain Tony Imbrenda "displayed his personal collection of crash-site photos at a public awards show" and then deleted them and told others to do the same after the controversy was reported in the news media. "I decided to delete the photos," he stated in a declaration filed in court Monday. "I did not want them to be misused, I advised others to do the same."
The county of Los Angeles is trying to force the widow of Kobe Bryant and other surviving family members of a fatal helicopter crash last year to submit to psychiatric examinations that could help the county prove a critical point in their legal dispute: Did Vanessa Bryant and the others suffer emotional distress because photos of their dead relatives were shared by county fire and sheriff's department employees after the crash? Or did their emotional distress stem only from the tragic crash itself?
The county contends it's the latter and is seeking a court order to compel these medical examinations as part its effort to defend itself from a lawsuit filed by Bryant last year after the NBA legend and their daughter died in that crash with seven others. Vanessa Bryant is suing the county for invasion of privacy and negligence, claiming county employees improperly shared photos of human remains from the crash site. In a court filing Friday, the county noted that Bryant and other surviving family plaintiffs are suing the county for “tens of millions of dollars based solely on their claimed 'severe emotional distress.’ ” The county's position is that their distress was not caused by county employees or any accident site photos it says "were never publicly disseminated."
The county said the photos were not posted on the internet and said the basis for Bryant's claims is that county employees "showed accident site photos to other government personnel and to a bartender" after the crash. It also is fighting an attempt by Bryant to take the depositions of L.A. Sheriff Alex Villanueva and County Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby. “Adding insult to injury, the County is making this demand while simultaneously refusing to make two of its key witnesses … available for a routine deposition,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys stated. “Apparently, in the County’s estimation, top officials should be shielded from providing any testimony, but the victims should not only withstand the emotional toll of a full-day deposition, but also submit to an eight-hour involuntary psychiatric examination simply because they had the audacity to demand accountability for Defendants’ disrespect of the dead and callous intrusion upon their private grief.”
To defend itself from a lawsuit filed by the widow of Kobe Bryant, the county of Los Angeles is trying to find out how much money she and other plaintiffs agreed to accept in exchange for dropping a separate lawsuit against a helicopter company in June, according to documents filed recently in federal court.
The county says such information could help show whether Vanessa Bryant and other plaintiffs are effectively double-dipping by attempting to recover damages for the “same harm” of emotional distress in two separate lawsuits stemming from the helicopter crash that killed the NBA legend in January 2020.
Vanessa Bryant is suing Los Angeles County, the sheriff’s department and LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva over alleged photos sheriff’s deputies took of the crash site where Kobe and 13-year-old Gianna Bryant died along with seven others following a helicopter accident near Calabasas, California, on Jan. 26.
The lawsuit, filed last Thursday in the Superior Court of California and obtained by USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday, cites emotional distress, negligence and invasion of privacy. It alleges at least eight sheriff’s deputies took photos on their personal cell phones of the crash. Additionally, a deputy trainee shared the photo with a member of the public days after the crash, according to a bartender who witnessed the interaction and then filed a written complaint to the department.
“At the moment the deputies snapped photos of Kobe and Gianna’s remains, they created a harm that cannot be undone, and the Department’s response has only exacerbated that harm,” the lawsuit says. Messages from USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday afternoon to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department were not immediately returned.
January 27, 2023 | 9:16 pm EST Update
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