Vanessa Bryant has filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff, Alex Villanueva, and his department, claiming law enforcement released unauthorized photos from the helicopter crash that killed her husband, Kobe Bryant, their 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant, and several others in January 2020.
After the tragedy, photos of the Lakers icon and his daughter were allegedly leaked and shared online.
According to the lawsuit, obtained by E! News, Vanessa learned about her husband and daughter's death through a "Kobe Inc. employee" and messages she received on Instagram. Vanessa claims she had not been contacted by authorities about the helicopter crash, which she states in the filing, left her feeling "confused and distraught."
The lawsuit also states, "No fewer than eight sheriff's deputies at the crash site, pulled out their personal cell phones and snapped photos of the dead children, parents and coaches. The deputies took these photos for their own personal gratification."
Moreover, Vanessa also claims law enforcement not involved with the case shared photos of the crash "outside of the department."
Per the lawsuit, "In the week following the accident, a deputy trainee showed off photos of the victims' remains at the Baja California Bar & Grill in Norwalk, Calif.—nearly 50 miles from the crash." Shortly after, a witness filed an online complaint, which alerted authorities of the incident.
Vanessa also claims Sheriff Villanueva didn't launch an investigation regarding the leaked photos, and instead, he allegedly asked the deputies to "delete the photos" and explained, "they would not face any discipline" if they did just that.
According to the lawsuit, Villanueva did not tell the victims' families of law enforcement's "misconduct" or the "existence of the photos." Vanessa claims she learned of the leaked images only after seeing it all over the media.
While it's noted that Villanueva reassured Vanessa photographers wouldn't take photos at the crash, he allegedly didn't ensure that his own department wouldn't.
Vanessa, according to the lawsuit, "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."
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, including punitive damages.
In regards to the lawsuit, the LASD released a statement on Tuesday, Sept. 22. "Shortly following this tragic crash, Sheriff Villanueva sponsored legislation which now makes it a crime for public safety personnel to take or share non-official pictures of this nature," the statement read. "As a result of the swift actions we took under extraordinary circumstances, no pictures made it into the public arena. We continue to offer our heartfelt sympathies for the victims and their families."
In May, Vanessa took the first step in initiating the proceedings over what she said were the unauthorized photos of her NBA star husband and their daughter. According to the filing at the time, she was seeking damages for emotional distress and mental anguish that came after L.A. County Sheriff's Department deputies took images of the victims and shared 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 Bryant family spokesperson told 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," the statement continued. "This claim is intended to hold the Sheriff's Department accountable and to prevent future misconduct."
In March, Villanueva appeared on NBC's Today and discussed the deputy trainee, who allegedly shared photos from the crash at a bar. He confirmed they were conducting an investigation over the incident.
"To be betrayed by one of our own is disheartening," Sheriff Villanueva said at the time.