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Vanessa Bryant ‘devastated’ by allegations that deputies shared Kobe crash photos

Vanessa Bryant speaks at public memorial for Kobe and Gianna Bryant at Staples Center
Vanessa Bryant speaks at the public memorial last week at Staples Center for her husband, Kobe Bryant, and daughter Gianna.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Vanessa Bryant is “absolutely devastated” by allegations that Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies shared photos of the helicopter crash that killed her husband, daughter and seven others, her attorney said in a statement.

Attorney Gary C. Robb requested an internal affairs investigation into the allegations and the “harshest possible discipline” for those responsible.

He called the alleged behavior “inexcusable and deplorable.”

“This is an unspeakable violation of human decency, respect, and of the privacy rights of the victims and their families,” he said.

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Robb said in the statement that Vanessa Bryant went to the sheriff’s office after the Jan. 26 crash and requested the area be designated as a “no-fly zone” and guarded from photographers.

“At that time, Sheriff Alex Villanueva assured us all measures would be put in place to protect the families’ privacy, and it is our understanding that he has worked hard to honor those requests,” Robb said. He demanded that the deputies be identified “to ensure that the photos are not further disseminated.”

The Los Angeles Times first reported allegations that deputies were sharing graphic photographs of the scene. After The Times’ report Thursday, an investigation was launched by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.

According to two public safety sources with knowledge of the events, an individual reported one deputy for showing grim images at a Norwalk bar.

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Normally, such a complaint would trigger a formal inquiry and possibly an internal affairs investigation, strictly following the chain of command, the sources said.

Instead, the Sheriff’s Department quietly ordered deputies to delete any photos in an attempt to keep the matter under wraps. In the days after the crash, deputies were ordered to report to the department’s Lost Hills station and told that if they came clean and deleted the photos, they would not face any discipline, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the events.

The sources said they were concerned the directive to delete the photos could amount to the destruction of evidence.

A third public safety source told The Times that the sharing of photos of the crash scene and the victims’ remains was the topic of a discussion among first responders two days after the crash.

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The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he saw one of the photos on the phone of another official at that discussion, which was not a part of the investigation of the crash.

It’s unclear how widely the photos might have been disseminated and who exactly was involved. It’s also unclear whether the deputies took the photos at the scene or received them from someone else.

Brian Williams, executive director of the Civilian Oversight Commission, said his office planned to question officials during a meeting with the Sheriff’s Department this week that had already been scheduled.

In an interview Wednesday, Villanueva did not respond directly to queries about whether he ordered the deletion of the photos.

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“Every police department struggles with the same thing, where people take photos and they’re not evidence,” he said. “So that’s a practice we have to make sure that everyone walks away, and there is no evidence other than the official photos of evidence that are taken for criminal purposes.”

The citizen’s complaint regarding what happened at the Norwalk bar was sent to the Sheriff’s Information Bureau. In an interview Wednesday, Capt. Jorge Valdez, the head of the bureau, said that he was “unaware of any complaint” and that “there was no order given to delete any photographs.”

The public safety sources said Friday, however, that Valdez was among those who handled the complaint.

Neither Villanueva nor Valdez responded to follow-up questions.

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The Sheriff’s Department issued a statement Friday saying Villanueva was “deeply disturbed at the thought deputies could allegedly engage in such an insensitive act.”

“A thorough investigation will be conducted by the department, with the No. 1 priority of protecting the dignity and privacy of the victims and their families,” the department said.


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