LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Vanessa Bryant is suing L.A. County, its Sheriff’s Department and Sheriff Alex Villanueva for negligence, invasion of privacy and emotional distress over the personal cell phone photos taken at the site of the helicopter crash that killed her husband Kobe Bryant, their daughter Gianna and seven others back in January.
The lawsuit alleges there has been no accountability, no formal investigation and no disciplinary action against the deputies.
“Mrs. Bryant has suffered (and continues to suffer) severe emotional distress from the knowledge that images of her husband’s and daughter’s remains were taken and shared for the perverse gratification of law enforcement officers, and she fears that she and her family may confront the appalling photos at any moment on the internet,” the suit states.
Legal analyst Alexandra Kazarian said the lawsuit isn’t surprising considering Sheriff Villanueva has admitted that eight deputies were involved in taking photos of the victims’ remains and sharing them inside and outside of the department.
“The basis for her allegations are valid,” she said.
The complaint states those deputies “were at the crash site snapping gratuitous cell-phone photos of dead children, parents and coaches.”
It goes on to say that the Sheriff “told them that if they came clean and deleted the photos, they would not face any discipline… For nearly a month, until their hands were forced by public reports about the photos, Sheriff Villanueva and the Department took no further action to investigate or contain the spread of the photos.”
“When Sheriff Villanueva found out that deputies took that information, they didn’t log it properly, they used it for their own benefit, showing people at bars, his response to tell them to delete evidence…. now this isn’t just evidence of an investigation, this is evidence of misconduct,” Kazarian said.
In March, Sheriff Villanueva spoke publicly about the incident.
In response to the current lawsuit, the sheriff’s department issued this statement:
“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 pending litigation, we are unable to offer further comment.”
Kazarian believes the lawsuit will eventually be settled.
“Does LA County want people to be dragged through a legal battle like that?” she said. “Or do they want to say, ‘You know what, Vanessa, you’re right, we’re going to take it upon ourselves’ We’re going to have an internal solution to this and if money will help in this situation, then we will make that happen.’”
Recently, Vanessa Bryant fired back at the Sheriff after he challenged Lebron James to match the reward for the suspect in the ambush shooting of two deputies.
Bryant reposted this comment on social media: “He shouldn’t be challenging LeBron James to match a reward or ‘to step up to the plate.’ He couldn’t even ‘step up to the plate’ and hold his deputies accountable for photographing dead children.”