In documents filed this week, Vanessa Bryant’s legal team claims the scandal involving L.A. County employees taking and sharing improper photos of the scene of Kobe Bryant’s helicopter accident in January 2020 is “both more expansive and more egregious” than they initially knew.
To this point, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department had been the main focus of Bryant’s lawsuit, which accuses first responders of taking and subsequently showing off gruesome photos of the Calabasas crash, which killed the Lakers star, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven other people early last year. Now, Vanessa Bryant’s legal team is requesting more time for discovery, saying that upward of 80 county employees could be involved or have relevant knowledge of the alleged misconduct.
“Mrs. Bryant has since learned that the number of LASD and LAFD employees who took, shared, and/or possessed improper photos of the accident scene is actually eighteen (and counting) and that 66 county employees have relevant knowledge of the misconduct,” the federal court filing, obtained by USA Today, reads.
In May 2020, Bryant initially filed suit against the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department seeking damages for emotional distress and mental anguish caused by the revelation that, shortly after the crash, an L.A. County sheriff’s deputy had allegedly shown off photos of the scene at the Baja California Bar and Grill in Norwalk.
Bryant had personally asked L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva to declare the site a no-fly zone and to protect it from unauthorized photography to ensure privacy on the morning of the accident.
“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 suit stated. “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.”
Sheriff Villanueva had resisted naming the deputies involved, but in March of this year, was ordered to release the names to Bryant, who subsequently shared them—Joey Cruz, Rafael Mejia, Michael Russell, and Raul Versales—on Instagram.
The new filing says that Bryant’s team has discovered Los Angeles County Fire Department employees were also involved. According to an internal investigation attorneys uncovered, “…two Fire Department employees took photos of victims’ remains at the crash site that ‘served no business necessity’ and instead ‘only served to appeal to baser instincts and desires for what amounted to visual gossip.'” Two of the fire department employees were reportedly fired.
If Bryant’s team is granted more time for discovery, they could expand their investigation and depose more witnesses.
Bryant is expected to take the podium at her late husband hall of fame induction this weekend.
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