Vanessa Bryant has won her lawsuit against the four Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies who her lawyers allege shared “unauthorized” photos of Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant, and seven others at the helicopter crash site where they died.
According to the Los Angeles Times, U.S. District Judge John F. Walter ruled that Vanessa can obtain the deputies’ names, dismissing L.A. County lawyers’ efforts to keep the names sealed in order to protect them from online vitriol and hackers who may want to obtain the photos.
The deputies’ names can now be added to Bryant’s amended filing in her lawsuit against the sheriff’s department and county.
In his ruling, Walter said that claims of police officer misconduct shouldn’t be concealed from the public. “Indeed where the case involves allegations of police misconduct, the public has a vested interest in assessing the truthfulness of the allegations of official misconduct, and whether agencies that are responsible for investigating and adjudicating complaints of misconduct have acted properly and wisely,” he wrote.
Walter explained that despite the consequences the deputies might face, it’s not enough for him to conceal their identities. “Although the Court recognizes that this case has been the subject of public scrutiny and media attention and that the Deputy Defendants are legitimately concerned that they will encounter vitriol and social media attacks, such concerns, by themselves, are not sufficient to outweigh the public’s strong interest in access,” he added.
He also said that the deputies seemingly being a mark for hackers is illogical, since they have said they’re no longer in possession of the photos. “Moreover, Defendants’ concern that hackers may attempt to seek out and gain access to the individual deputies’ devices to locate any photographs and publish them is totally inconsistent with their position that such photographs no longer exist,” Walter explained.
Filed in September 2020, Bryant’s lawsuit claims that certain deputies and firefighters captured and shared photos on their personal cell phones of the nine people who perished in the Jan. 26, 2020 crash. She’s seeking damages for negligence, invasion of privacy, and emotional distress.
Back in February, Bryant publicly asked the sheriff’s department to release the deputies’ names on Instagram: “They want their names to be exempt from the public,” she said. “Anyone else facing these allegations would be unprotected, named and released to the public.”
Bryant added that while not “all law enforcement is bad,” the deputies “need to be held accountable for their actions, just like everyone else.”