Vanessa Bryant, the widow of late NBA star Kobe Bryant, filed a legal claim Friday against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department over graphic photos that deputies allegedly took and shared of the helicopter crash scene where her husband, 13-year-old daughter, Gigi, and seven others were killed in late January.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva had “personally assured” Bryant the crash scene would be secured for her family’s privacy, the filing claims.
“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,” the claim says, according to The Los Angeles Times.
"No fewer than eight sheriff’s deputies were at the scene snapping cell-phone photos of the dead children, parents, and coaches."— Legal filing on behalf of Kobe Bryant's widow
The claim adds the department admitted there was no “investigative purpose” for the photos, and were actually taken for “personal purposes.”
Just days after the Jan. 26 crash in Calabasas, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, an anonymous person filed a complaint with the department about deputies being seen taking and sharing the photos.
Only personnel from the county coroner’s office and National Transportation Safety Board were authorized to take photos at the scene, Villanueva said, according to People.
Vanessa Bryant speaks during a celebration of life for her husband Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Los Angeles. (Associated Press)
Bryant’s claim accuses the department of “mishandling...this egregious misconduct" and conducting a “grossly insufficient” investigation.
“Mrs. Bryant was distressed to learn that the department did not initiate a formal investigation until after the L.A. Times broke the story,” the filing states.
The claim says the five deputies and three trainees who took or shared the photos should be held liable for invasion of privacy, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress, according to The Times.
Worry that the photos could become public has “compounded” the grief of the widow of the longtime Los Angeles Lakers player, it adds, People reported.
The sheriff’s department told the Times it had not received a copy of the claim and declined to comment.
The sheriff’s department initially tried to keep the incident quiet by telling the deputies to delete the photos, the Times reported.
???????Vanessa Bryant, left, Kobe Bryant, Natalia Bryant and Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant are seen in Los Angeles, Feb. 26, 2018, nearly two years before Kobe and Gianna Bryant died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020. (Associated Press)
"Rather than formally investigate the allegations to identify the extent of dissemination and contain the spread of the photos, Department leadership reportedly told deputies that they would face no discipline if they just deleted the photos," the claim says, according to People.
A lawyer for Bryant requested an internal investigation at the time and the “harshest possible discipline” for those involved.
“This is an unspeakable violation of human decency, respect, and of the privacy rights of the victims and their families,” attorney Gary Robb said.
??????Kobe Bryant, right, of the Los Angeles Lakers drives on Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz in an NBA game at Staples Center in Los Angeles, April 13, 2016. (Getty Images)
A spokesperson for the Bryant family told People the claim is "solely is about enforcing accountability, protecting the victims and making sure no one ever has to deal with this conduct in the future. When a family suffers the loss of loved ones, they have the right to expect that they will be treated with dignity and respect."
Last month, Bryant and family members for four other passengers who were killed in the crash sued a helicopter company involved in the accident, which was initially attributed at least in part to weather conditions.
Earlier this week, California state Assemblyman Mike Gipson introduced legislation that would make it a crime for a first responder to take photos at a deadly scene unless officially required.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.