Kobe Bryant's widow Vanessa sues sheriff over 'cover-up' of crash photos
Kobe Bryant's wife Vanessa is suing the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department over the sharing of "unauthorised" photos of the scene of his death, it's claimed. The LA Lakers player tragically died in a helicopter crash in California on January 26 which killed eight other people, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianni.
Vanessa alleges that shortly after the crash Sheriff Alex Villanueva personally assured her that deputies were securing the crash site to ensure her privacy, the Los Angeles Times reports. The lawsuit allegedly says that "no fewer than 8 sheriff's deputies at the crash site, pulled out their personal cell phones and snapped photos of the dead children, parents and coaches. "The deputies took these photos for their own personal gratification."
Villanueva is accused of covering up the taking of the photos and the leak of them outside the force. Luis Li, Vanessa's lawyer, says: "This lawsuit is about accountability and about preventing this disgraceful behavior from happening to other families in the future who have suffered loss."
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Sheriff Villanueva has admitted that eight of his deputies were involved in taking and sharing photos of the remains of Kobe and other victims at the scene of the crash, the LA Times reports. He ordered that the photos be destroyed but at least one of the photos was shared outside of the department, he reportedly admitted.
The lawsuit alleges that one of the deputies was at a bar where he showed photos from the crash to a woman and a bartender who overheard the conversation decided to report it to the Sheriff's Department. Villanueva is accused of covering up the taking of the pictures by telling deputies if they deleted the images they would not face discipline.
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The documents claim Vanessa was "distressed" to learn that the department did not initiate a formal investigation until after it was reported in the press. It's also alleged that Villanueva did not inform the families, investigate or inspect the phones of the deputies.
Vanessa is seeking damages for negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of her right to privacy, it's claimed. Villanueva told the publication: "The actions we took were the correct ones in extraordinary circumstances."
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A spokesperson from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department told Mirror Online: "Shortly following this tragic crash, Sheriff Villanueva sponsored legislation which now makes it a crime for public safety personnel to take or share non-official pictures of this nature. As a result of the swift actions we took under extraordinary circumstances, no pictures made it into the public arena. We continue to offer our heartfelt sympathies for the victims and their families.