Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Chief Jorge Valdez explained to a jury Wednesday why he and Sheriff Alex Villanueva lied to a reporter about receiving a citizen complaint accusing a deputy of showing photos of Kobe Bryant’s remains to patrons at a bar.
As ABC7 reports, Valdez—who was a captain leading the department’s media response team at the time of the January 2020 helicopter crash that killed nine people including Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna—testified, “I bungled that interaction with the reporter. I got hung up on a technicality.”
A remarkable series of such bungles led Vanessa Bryant and Chris Chester, who lost his wife Sarah and 13-year-old daughter Payton in the crash, to sue L.A. County for negligence and invasion of privacy.
The jurors have already heard recordings in which Valdez, Villanueva and then-Lt. John Satterfield all deny knowing anything about the complaint—or any orders by Villanueva to delete the photos.
“You don’t know of any complaint,” Los Angeles Times reporter Alene Tchekmedyian asks in the recordings.
“No, I’m kinda lost,” Villanueva replied.
“So, you’re denying knowledge of a complaint and that deputies in the Lost Hills Station were ordered by you to delete photos from their phones,” the reporter asked again.
“We’ve never seen, no, I’m unaware of any complaint,” then-Captain Valdez answered.
In fact, the 27-year department veteran had personally gone to get the video of the deputy showing photos at the bar—a month before Tchekmedyian asked about it, ABC7 notes.
“I wish I had handled it differently,” Valdez told the jury Wednesday.
Valdez explained that he didn’t consider the citizen complaint an official “complaint” because it came in through the department’s website.
Valdez also admitted during questioning by Vanessa Bryant’s attorney, Craig Jennings Lavoie, that an Internal Affairs investigation was finally launched due to the “high media attention.”
Valdez further testified that because “time was of the essence” during the initial inquiry, Villanueva informed deputies that if they told the truth and the photos “never saw the light of day,” they would receive only a minor note on their personnel records, but no discipline.
As far as destroying evidence, Valdez claimed that he didn’t consider photos of the scene to be “evidence” because the helicopter crash was not a crime, he said, but rather “an unfortunate aircraft collision.” Although the NTSB was conducting a federal investigation, Valdez said the agency had made it clear to him it was not a criminal investigation.
“So it’s okay to destroy potential evidence by asking deputies to delete the photos in an administrative investigation by the NTSB?” Lavoie Jennings asked.
“Yes,” Valdez replied.
In court on Monday, Valdez apologized for the first time to Bryant and Chester.
On Wednesday, Chester’s attorney, Jerome Jackson, asked Valdez again why no one from the Sheriff’s Department ever called the Bryant or Chester families to warn them about the photos or to express regret at the horrific invasion of privacy or to explain why the families of the victims seemed to be neglected or misled at every turn.
“Isn’t it true that if the L.A. Times hadn’t broken the story, the LASD would have never told the families?” Jackson asked.
“No,” Valdez replied.
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