LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva was deposed Wednesday in the federal lawsuit brought by the widow of Kobe Bryant over personal cell phone photos that were allegedly shared by deputies and L.A. County firefighters from the scene of the 2020 helicopter crash which claimed the life of the Lakers legend, his teen daughter and seven others.
L.A. County attorneys had tried to block Villanueva from facing a deposition.
However, U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles F. Eick last month rejected the county’s argument, ruling that both Villanueva and L.A. County Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby must testify under oath because they seem to have “unique first-hand, non-repetitive knowledge” useful to the litigation. Each deposition was limited to four hours.
It was not immediately known where the deposition took place or its length, but it’s expected the session was videotaped for use during trial. A source did not say whether Osby has yet been deposed.
Last week, Judge Eick also denied a request from L.A. County’s lawyers that Vanessa Bryant undergo a psychiatric evaluation in the case.
On Jan. 26, 2020, a helicopter carrying Lakers legend Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others crashed in heavy fog in Calabasas, killing all nine people aboard. Among those was 56-year-old John Altobelli, a longtime baseball coach at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, his 46-year-old wife Keri and their 13-year-old daughter Alyssa. Also aboard was 38-year-old Christina Mauser a wife, mother and basketball coach from Huntington Beach.
On Oct. 2, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors approved a $2.5-million settlement with the families of Mauser and the Altobellis over the unauthorized sharing of photos of the crash scene.
Last September, Vanessa Bryant filed her own federal lawsuit in the case. The trial is scheduled to begin in February.
Also last September, and in response to the crash scene photo scandal, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law that makes it a misdemeanor for first responders to take and share accident and crime scene photos for any purpose other than an official law enforcement purpose or a genuine public interest.
Vanessa Bryant’s attorneys contend that days after Villanueva promised Bryant to secure the scene and make sure no photos were publicly disseminated, a civilian came forward and complained that a sheriff’s deputy had shown the photos at a bar in Norwalk.
It was also alleged that a firefighter showed cellphone photos to a group of off-duty firefighters and their partners during an awards ceremony reception.
L.A. County has responded in court papers by listing personnel who had access to crash scene photos taken as part of the investigation, and denied any photos were shown to unauthorized persons.
When Villanueva heard of allegations that a deputy trainee had revealed the photos on his phone to someone in a bar, the sheriff opened an investigation, the county stated in court filings.
The court documents also allege that all personal photos that were taken by deputies have since been deleted.
“The department determined that all personnel who had taken, shared, or received crash site photos had, in fact, deleted them,” according to L.A. County attorneys. “No one had sent a photo to anyone outside LASD. To this day, and despite media hyperbole about `leaked’ photos, no county crash site photos have ever been publicly disseminated.”
Bryant’s widow is seeking millions of dollars in damages for alleged emotional distress caused by allegations that the photos were shared.
An evidentiary hearing in the case is scheduled on Nov. 29.
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