Vanessa Bryant has filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and his department after authorities allegedly took personal photos at the scene of the January 26 helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others.
According to legal documents obtained by TMZ on Tuesday, Vanessa alleges 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."
In February, a public safety source told The Los Angeles Times that first responders allegedly discussed how photos of the crash scene and of the victims’ remains were being shared. The source also said he saw one of the photos on the phone of another official, in a nonprofessional setting.
The legal papers also discuss an allegation, reported by TMZ earlier this year, that a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department trainee allegedly took pictures at the site and “tried to impress a girl by showing her the photos” days later at a bar. A bartender at the establishment overheard the conversation and filed an online complaint with the Sheriff's Department.
In her lawsuit, Vanessa appears to accuse Sheriff Villanueva of trying to destroy evidence, alleging that he told deputies that if they deleted the photos, they would not face discipline.
Vanessa also alleges that Villanueva failed to mention the supposed photos to the grieving families, who heard about them afterward through the media.
Lastly, Vanessa says Villanueva allegedly failed to give her family straight answers about the alleged pics when questions were raised.
In her suit, Vanessa says she is fearful that the alleged photos of her deceased loved ones will leak online.
"Ms. 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 papers read.
Vanessa is seeking unspecified damages, including punitive damages.
On Instagram in March, Vanessa shared a message from her lawyers that expressed outrage over the alleged photos.
While requesting an internal investigation into the matter, Bryant’s counsel said, “First responders should be trustworthy… This is an unspeakable violation of human decency, respect, and of the privacy rights of the victims and their families. We are demanding that those responsible for these alleged actions face the harshest possible discipline, and that their identities be brought to light, to ensure that the photos are not further disseminated.”
Vanessa’s statement also praised the bartender who filed the complaint, commending the individual for “exposing these acts of injustice, and for the choice to protect human dignity.”
At the time, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department released a statement saying they were “aware” of the photo-sharing reports, and promised to conduct “a thorough investigation.”
The January 26 crash also claimed the lives of Gianna’s basketball teammate Alyssa Altobelli; Alyssa’s father and Orange Coast College baseball coach, John Altobelli; Alyssa’s mother, Keri Altobelli; Harbor Day School basketball coach Christina Mauser; middle school student Payton Chester; Payton’s mother, Sarah Chester; and pilot Ara Zobayan.