200129 Kobe crash
Investigators work at the scene of the helicopter crash, where former NBA star Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna died, on January 28, 2020 in Calabasas, California. Image Credit: AFP

Vanessa Bryant has begun legal proceedings to sue the Los Angeles County sheriff’s department over graphic photographs taken at the helicopter crash scene that killed her husband, NBA legend Kobe Bryant, and their 13-year-old daughter Gianna.

People magazine obtained the legal claim filed in which Vanessa Bryant seeks damages for emotional distress and mental anguish in the wake of revelations that eight sheriff’s department deputies took graphic photos of the scene and shared them with others.

Kobe and Gianna Bryant were among nine people who died in the January 26 helicopter crash in the mountains west of Los Angeles.

According to the court filing obtained by People, “no fewer than eight sheriff’s deputies were at the scene snapping cell-phone photos of the dead children, parents, and coaches”.

“As the Department would later admit, there was no investigative purpose for deputies to take pictures at the crash site,” it continued. “Rather, the deputies took photos for their own personal purposes.”

The only people authorised to take pictures of the scene were investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and the coroner’s office.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva acknowledged in March that deputies had taken photos of the crash scene, after the Los Angeles Times reported the existence of the pictures.

Kobe Bryant kisses his daughter Gianna
Kobe Bryant kisses his daughter Gianna Image Credit: AP

Entertainment news website TMZ.com reported then that a bartender had lodged a complaint after hearing a trainee sheriff’s deputy showing the images to a customer in a bar.

Villanueva said in March that the department had identified the deputies involved and ensured that the photos were destroyed so that they could not be circulated further.

At that time Vanessa Bryant asked for an internal affairs investigation and sanctions for all involved.

“Rather than formally investigate the allegations to identify the extent of dissemination and contain the spread of the photos, Department leadership reportedly told deputies that they would face no discipline if they just deleted the photos,” the filing reads, according to People.

The legal claim also states that Vanessa Bryant has been made aware that some of the photos have surfaced on the internet.

“This (lawsuit) 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 for the Bryant family told People.