NBC4 I-Team

LA County Says Vanessa Bryant Lacks Basis to Sue Deputies Over Crash Photos

LA County’s lawyers have now filed a detailed denial of Bryant's claims, in which the county asks a federal judge to dismiss Bryant's case.

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Lawyers for Los Angeles County have asked a judge to ‘throw out’ Vanessa Bryant's emotional distress lawsuit -- that claims sheriff’s deputies and firefighters photographed her husband and daughter’s remains at the scene of the helicopter crash near Calabasas and shared those images.

NBC4’s I-Team has been following all the legal cases surrounding the crash that killed Kobe Bryant, the couple’s daughter Gianna, and seven others.

The latest filing is the county’s response to Vanessa Bryant's allegations -- that a group of deputies and other county employees used their cellphones to capture unofficial images of the crash scene -- and then, allegedly, shared those photos with a variety of others for no official reason. 

LA County’s lawyers have now filed a detailed denial of Bryant's claims, in which the county asks a federal judge to dismiss Bryant's case.

First, the county argues that there are two California legal precedents that make the distribution of accident death photos -- essentially -- permissible for public agencies. 

Second, the county says that because those photos were never shared with the public -- there is no harm that’s been done to the Bryant family.

Lastly, the county says that for other legal reasons, showing accident scene photos of Kobe Bryant and others, does not meet the definition of an invasion of privacy against Vanessa Bryant.

A total of nine people were killed in the crash in January 2020 on a hillside near the 101 Freeway in Calabasas.

The NTSB concluded pilot error was the probable cause, and blamed it on the pilot’s decision to fly at high speed into low clouds, after which the pilot lost control and flew into the hill.

A month after the crash, Sheriff Alex Villanueva confirmed that several deputies had taken and shared graphic photos.

The sheriff said he ordered the deputies to delete the photos, and an internal investigation was opened. 

Vanessa Bryant sued last fall, claiming the photos and the sheriff’s handling of the case amounted to an invasion of privacy and a violation of her civil rights under the constitution.

In these new court papers, LA County’s lawyers have denied wrongdoing, even suggesting that the deputies might have had an ‘official’ purpose for taking the photos. 

The judge has made one significant ruling in Bryant’s favor already, no ruling has been made on the county’s request to dismiss, and as things stand today -- a trial is set for November.

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