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Vanessa Bryant sues Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department over crash site photos

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(NEW YORK) —  Vanessa Bryant filed a lawsuit last Thursday against Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva over “gratuitous” photographs that sheriff’s deputies allegedly took at the site of the January helicopter crash that claimed the lives of nine people, including Kobe and Gianna Bryant.

Citing negligence, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress, Bryant’s lawsuit states that in the immediate aftermath of the helicopter crash, at least eight sheriff’s deputies at the scene used their cell phones to take personal photos of the victims, three of whom were children.

The filing adds that one of the deputies later showed the images to a woman at a bar, and a bartender who overheard the conversation alerted the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. However, according to the lawsuit, Villanueva did not follow LASD protocol, and instead told the deputies involved that if they deleted the images, which were not taken for official purposes, they wouldn’t be disciplined.

“The Sheriff’s Department’s outrageous actions have caused Mrs. Bryant severe emotional distress and compounded the trauma of losing Kobe and Gianna,” the lawsuit states. “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.”

Representatives for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Villanueva had no immediate comment.

Kobe, 41, and Gianna, 13, were on their way to a basketball game with six others when their helicopter crashed on Jan. 26. Everyone on board, including the pilot, was killed.

In February, the Los Angeles Times broke the news that deputies took photos at the crash site, and Villanueva later apologized to the victims’ families. The sheriff told NBC4 in Los Angeles at the time that his “number one priority was to make sure those photos no longer exist,” rather than punish the deputies who took them.

“Had we done the original, usual routine, which was relieve everybody of duty and everybody lawyers up and all that, that would increase the odds tenfold that those photos would have some how made their way into the public domain. And that’s definitely what we do not want,” he said.

He added that he also planned to institute a policy that would criminalize the taking of “unauthorized photos of accident scenes that depict the remains of those deceased.” In August, the California Senate approved a bill that does just that, according to the Los Angeles Times. The bill is now with California Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign.

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