Updated October 7, 2020.
Soon after basketball player Kobe Bryant was killed in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash alongside his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others, reports surfaced from the Los Angeles Times that L.A. County sheriff’s deputies had captured and shared photos of the accident site. Abominably, these images included pictures of the victims. Worse, deputies allegedly continued to share the photos in the days following the horrific accident that transpired in Calabasas, California.
During a time when she should have been allowed to mourn, Bryant’s wife Vanessa Bryant worked to file a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department alleging violation of privacy.
Bryant’s wrongful death lawsuit against the owner of Kobe Bryant’s doomed helicopter has been moved to federal court.
Bryant’s lawsuit claimed Island Express is liable for the deaths of her husband and daughter because the helicopter was only licensed to fly in visually navigable conditions.
According to paperwork obtained by the Daily News, Bryant filed her original wrongful death complaint against Island Express Helicopters this past February at Los Angeles County’s Superior Court. In response, the helicopter company filed a cross-complaint against two federal air traffic controllers, “triggering the venue change.”
Vanessa’s lawyers have argued that the removal was made as part of a “transparent and untenable attempt to forum-shop their way into federal court.”
“Defendants unlawfully and improperly seek to deprive Mrs. Bryant of her lawful choice of forum in California state court,” the lawyers argued in a September filing.
In response to Bryant’s lawsuit, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill in September to prohibit first responders from taking photographs of deceased victims ″outside of job duties.”
AB 2655 was signed by Newsom on Monday and prohibits first responders from taking photographs, not related to job duties, of deceased victims. According to KCBS, Violation of the law will result in a misdemeanor.
AB 2655 states that “Existing law generally prohibits a reproduction of any kind of photograph of the body, or any portion of the body, of a deceased person, taken by or for the coroner at the scene of death or in the course of a post mortem examination or autopsy, from being made or disseminated. Existing law generally makes a person who views, by means of any instrumentality, including, but not limited to, a camera or mobile phone, the interior of any area in which the occupant has a reasonable expectation of privacy, with the intent to invade the privacy of a person or persons inside, guilty of a misdemeanor. This bill would make it a misdemeanor for a first responder, as defined, who responds to the scene of an accident or crime to capture the photographic image of a deceased person for any purpose other than an official law enforcement purpose or a genuine public interest. By creating a new crime, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program. The bill would require an agency that employs first responders to, on January 1, 2021, notify those first responders of the prohibition imposed by the bill. By increasing the duties of local agencies, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program.”
The images of the crash site victims occurred despite a personal request from Vanessa Bryant to Sheriff Alex Villanueva on the morning of the crash to request the site be secured for privacy.
This was a legal claim filed against the department in May.
″In reality, however, no fewer than eight sheriff’s deputies were at the scene snapping cell-phone photos of the dead children, parents, and coaches,″ the document filed by Vanessa explained ″As the Department would later admit, there was no investigative purpose for deputies to take pictures at the crash site. Rather, the deputies took photos for their own personal purposes.”
Vanessa Bryant filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
On Jan. 26, a helicopter carrying Kobe and Gianna Bryant, Payton and Sarah Chester, Alyssa, Keri, and John Altobelli, Christina Mauser, and pilot Ara Zobayan crashed in the Calabasas hills. The sudden death devastated those who knew Kobe and the city of Los Angeles that mourned his death for months after.
Vanessa was shocked to hear that the sheriff deputies took photos of her husband’s and daughter’s bodies at the crash site.
“This lawsuit is about accountability and about preventing this disgraceful behavior from happening to other families in the future who have suffered loss,” Vanessa’s attorney, Luis Li, said in a statement. “The department formally refused Mrs. Bryant’s requests for information, saying it was ‘unable to assist’ with any inquiry and had no legal obligation to do so. It’s now for a court to tell the department what its obligations are.”
Bryant sued the department claiming damages for emotional distress, negligence, and invasion of privacy.
Kobe fans are upset with the LACSD and the allegations that the deputies took these photos.
According to TMZ, Sheriff Alex Villanueva knew about the photos taken by eight deputies and shared within the department. They were also shared in the Lost Hills Sheriff’s substation. Sheriff Villanueva told the deputies to delete the photos from their phones and felt confident they did so.
A trainee allegedly shared the photos with a woman in a bar.
A witness to the event said that a trainee took out his phone and showed a woman the photos to impress her. The bartender overheard the conversation and filed an online complaint about the trainee and their behavior with the photos. The trainee showed the woman the photos a few days after the crash leading many to believe that the sheriff’s department was fully aware of the photos.
Kobe fans are standing behind Vanessa as she follows through with her lawsuit.
Reports state that the sheriff’s department told deputies to delete the images to avoid disciplinary action. The coverup is sparking outrage by Kobe fans who are angered that the department did not do enough to protect the dignity and privacy of all of the victims of the crash.
Mitú will update this story as it continues to develop.
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