Vanessa Bryant filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, alleging that several deputies took and shared cellphone photos of the helicopter crash site where her husband, Kobe Bryant, and their 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, died along with seven others in January.
The lawsuit accuses at least eight deputies of taking photos of the victims at the crash site with their personal cellphones and showing them to their colleagues, and in one instance, a member of the public.
The victims also included Payton and Sarah Chester; Christina Mauser; John, Keri, and Alyssa Altobelli; and the pilot, Ara Zobayan, as they were en route to a basketball game on Jan. 26. They all died of blunt force trauma when the helicopter slammed into a hillside in Calabasas in poor visibility.
"The gratuitous images soon became talked about within the Department, as deputies displayed them to colleagues in settings that had nothing to do with investigating the accident," the lawsuit states.
One deputy allegedly used his photos to try to impress a woman at a bar as he bragged about how he had been at the crash site, the lawsuit adds, citing a bartender who overheard the interaction and filed a complaint with the sheriff's department.
The lawsuit is seeking damages for emotional distress, negligence, and invasion of privacy.
The sheriff's department spokesperson said that shortly after the crash, Sheriff Alex Villanueva sponsored legislation "which now makes it a crime for public safety personnel to take or share non-official pictures of this nature."
"As a result of the swift actions we took under extraordinary circumstances, no pictures made it into the public arena," the spokesperson added. "We continue to offer our heartfelt sympathies for the victims and their families."
Vanessa Bryant also accuses Villanueva of engaging in a "cover-up" by failing to secure the photos and stop them from being shared.
A month after Kobe Bryant's death, the Los Angeles Times first reported that sheriff's deputies had shared private cellphone photos of the victims, and that Villanueva told the deputies that if they quietly deleted the photos, they would not face any discipline.
Following the reports, Villanueva admitted that he had ordered eight deputies to delete the images and he was "content that those involved did that."
He also called their behavior "inexcusable" and said the department had opened an investigation in response to the Times' reporting.
At the time, Vanessa Bryant's attorney Gary C. Robb called for the "harshest possible discipline" against the deputies, saying their alleged actions were "deplorable."
“This is an unspeakable violation of human decency, respect, and of the privacy rights of the victims and their families,” he said at the time.
The lawsuit states that the sheriff department's actions caused Vanessa Bryant "severe emotional distress and compounded the trauma of losing Kobe and Gianna."
"Mrs. Bryant 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 adds.
Vanessa Bryant has also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the helicopter company operator and the deceased pilot's estate.