Vanessa Bryant sues LA sheriff over helicopter crash photos

Los Angeles: Vanessa Bryant, the widow of NBA star Kobe Bryant, has filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County sheriff claiming deputies shared unauthorised photos of the crash that killed her husband, their 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others.

After the January 26 crash, reports surfaced that graphic photos of the victims were being shared. Vanessa Bryant was “shocked and devastated” by the reports, the lawsuit states.

An investigator examines wreckage from the helicopter crash that claimed the lives of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianni.Credit:AP

“That was my No.1 priority, was to make sure those photos no longer exist,” Villanueva previously told NBC News. “We identified the deputies involved, they came to the station on their own and had admitted they had taken them and they had deleted them. And we’re content that those involved did that.”

Vanessa Bryant's lawsuit alleges the sheriff's actions constituted a “cover-up” of the misconduct. The suit claims the photos could still exist.

“Mrs Bryant feels ill at the thought of strangers gawking at images of her deceased husband and child and she lives in fear that she or her children will one day confront horrific images of their loved ones online,” the lawsuit states.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has not yet signed a bill that would make it a misdemeanour for first responders to take unauthorised photos of deceased people at the scene of an accident or crime. The legislation was prompted by the crash photos.

Kobe Bryant, right, and his wife Vanessa Bryant in 2018 at the Oscars.Credit:AP

A statement from the sheriff's department Tuesday incorrectly said such actions are now criminal. The bill has not yet been signed into law.

“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," the statement said. "Due to the pending litigation, we are unable to offer further comment.”

The Los Angeles Times first reported the allegations that the graphic photos had been taken and disseminated in February.

Separately, Vanessa Bryant has also filed a lawsuit alleging the helicopter's pilot, Ara Zobayan, was careless and negligent to fly in the fog and should have aborted the flight.

The brother of the pilot has said in a court filing that Bryant knew the risks of helicopter flying and his survivors aren’t entitled to damages from the pilot’s estate, while the helicopter company, Island Express, says it is not responsible for damages, calling the crash, among other things, “an act of God” and “an unavoidable accident” that was beyond its control.


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