The legal team of Kobe Bryant’s widow filed documents in federal court late Monday detailing photos taken from the scene of a helicopter crash that killed her husband and daughter, including what the photos contained and why they were shared with some first responders.
“I couldn’t believe how touching (the photos) were,” sheriff’s deputy Michael Russell said, according to a partial transcript of his pre-trial detention last month. “I didn’t expect (edited) and the deceased as they were in those photos.
“I look at grotesque, graphic bodies and go, ‘Oh my God. I can’t believe these were included in the pictures he was given.
The purpose of the filing is to support a lawsuit filed by Vanessa Bryant against Los Angeles County — a case in which the county’s first responders are accused of inappropriately sharing photos of her late daughter and husband, the NBA legend. Her attorneys have accused the county sheriffs and firefighters of covering up their behavior by improperly deleting the photos they were legally required to keep. They filed the latest documents in an effort to convince a judge to punish the county for this alleged theft of evidence.
Russell, who is a defendant in the lawsuit, also testified that unspecified remains in one photo “could have belonged to Kobe Bryant.” When asked why he asked another deputy defendant, Joey Cruz, to send him photos of the accident scene, Russell replied, “I was just — I was curious.”
Russell said he passed photos to a third deputy, but later regretted it.
“I realize my curiosity and — got the best of me and shared photos that, again, had no evidential value,” Russell said in another interview following the crash that killed all nine people on board, according to the court document.
Bryant is suing the county for invasion of privacy and negligence in a case set to go to trial in February. The county’s stance is that the photos were taken for legitimate reasons, not posted on the internet, and their sharing has not reached the level of public dissemination required by law for a case like this. The county’s outside counsel, Skip Miller, issued a statement Monday night following the latest filing.
“This looting move is unfounded and is only intended to distract from the fact that the county has made extensive efforts to ensure that photos of the crash site are not publicly distributed,” said Miller of the Miller Baronness firm. “And as Plaintiff herself has acknowledged, those attempts were successful. While we have great sympathy for her loss, the established law makes it clear that there is no basis for her case against the County.”
Both sides filed documents Monday containing a partial transcript of last week’s testimony from Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva. In the statement, Villanueva said he was taking steps to ensure the photos were not distributed after he received a complaint that a sheriff’s aide (Cruz) showed them to a bar shortly after the crash.
IN HER WORDS: Kobe Bryant’s widow Vanessa talks about the day her husband and daughter died
“And you take responsibility for any photos that have been removed; is that right?” asked Bryant’s attorney.
“In any case,” Villanueva replied.
Villanueva suggested that the situation would be much worse if he did not encourage the removal of the photos.
“Maybe one day you’ll explain to her (Bryant) that every action we’ve taken ensures that she will never risk those photos being publicly distributed,” Villanueva told Bryant’s attorney, Craig Lavoie, according to the transcript. “So you’re — essentially, you’re suing us for what we did, but would — ultimately, what she took advantage of. If we hadn’t taken the actions we did, it would have been a very different lawsuit.”
Villanueva also testified that an internal investigation revealed the footage went to “28 devices” among the sheriff’s staff.
This apparently included a detective who told the Home Affairs investigators last year that he had asked his wife if he wanted to see the photos. She said no.
“Did you tell her they were graphic?” the researcher asked.
“I told her (edited),” the detective replied, according to the partial transcript.
Bryant’s attorneys apparently edited graphic descriptions of human remains from public court documents and attempted to file “graphic descriptions of victims’ remains” under seal.
The filings mark the latest in a series of legal battles ahead of the trial, with Bryant seeking compensatory and punitive damages to punish the alternate defendants and “make them an example to the community.”
On Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Eick ordered Bryant and her therapist to turn in her private therapy records since January 2017 after the county requested it as part of its defense against her lawsuit.
Bryant’s lawsuit is one of two still active against the county because of the photos, along with a similar lawsuit filed by Chris Chester, who lost his wife and daughter in the crash. The families of two other victims recently agreed that the county would each receive $1.25 million to end their own similar cases.
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Scrotenboer. Email: email@example.com
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kobe Bryant’s widow escalates her lawsuit over crash body photos