Vanessa Bryant has filed a legal claim over the release of unauthorized photos of the helicopter crash that killed her husband and daughter. People reports that she is seeking damages for emotional distress and mental anguish, as eight L.A. County Sheriff's Department deputies took graphic photos of the victims in the crash and reportedly shared them around. The Jan. 26 crash killed both Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, and their 13-year-old daughter Gianna.
It was first reported that the graphic photos had been shared in March, with Bryant sharing a statement that she was "absolutely devastated" by the news. Vanessa personally spoke to Sheriff Alex Villanueva on the day of the crash and requested the site was secured for privacy. "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 claim reads. "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."
The only people authorized to take photographs at the scene were the county coroner's office and investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board. Villanueva confirmed as such, previously saying photographs taken by anyone else would be "illicit." It has also been indicated that two L.A. firefighters took photos at the scene, but they were instructed to delete them.
"This [filing] solely is about enforcing accountability, protecting the victims and making sure no one ever has to deal with this conduct in the future," a spokesperson confirmed with People. "When a family suffers the loss of loved ones, they have the right to expect that they will be treated with dignity and respect. The Deputies in this case betrayed that sacred trust. This claim is intended to hold the Sheriff’s Department accountable and to prevent future misconduct."
The claim adds that the department told deputies that they would "face no discipline if they just deleted the photos." Villanueva said during a March appearance on NBC's Today that he was made aware of the photos when one deputy trainee allegedly shared the photos with someone at a bar. A witness reported the incident online. Bryant's claim adds that she and her attorneys have asked for a more transparent investigation, and to be made aware of the deputies who were involved. The department said it is "unable to assist" with such a request.
"Mrs. Bryant is deeply worried that all copies of the sheriff’s deputies’ photos have not been accounted for, and that it is only a matter of time before she or her daughters encounter them on the Internet," the claim continues. "The sheriff’s deputies who took and shared the photos are thus liable for negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of Mrs. Bryant’s right to privacy in the death images of her loved ones."
On Thursday, California lawmaker Mike Gipson prposed a bill that would make it a crime for first responders to share unauthorized photos from ceime scenes. The legislation is titled "Invasion of Privacy: First Responders," and was introduced following reports of the photos from the crash site. If the bill becomes law, any first responder taking images of a deceased person "for any purpose other than an official law enforcement purpose" would be hit with a misdemeanor. Brreaking the policy will result in maximum punishment of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.