Los Angeles, CA – A federal judge on Tuesday ruled that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) must give Vanessa Bryant the names and ranks of the deputies who shared graphic images of the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash scene.
U.S. District Judge John F. Walter rejected an effort by attorneys for the county who tried to keep the names of the sheriff’s deputies under wraps on March 9, KTLA reported.
Attorneys for Los Angeles County and LASD had argued that releasing the deputies’ names to the public increased the odds of hackers targeting them.
Court documents showed the lawyers argued that “hackers may attempt to seek out and gain access to the individual deputies’ devices to locate any photographs and publish them,” CNN reported.
But U.S. District Judge John F. Walter ruled on March 8 that the argument was “totally inconsistent with their position that such photographs no longer exist.”
LASD Sheriff Alex Villanueva had previously said that all of the pictures the deputies had in their possession had already been deleted, CNN reported.
Walter said in his ruling that Sheriff Villanueva’s “promise to publicly release the [internal affairs bureau] report after the conclusion of the investigation undermines Defendants’ purported concern in the disclosure of the limited excerpts at issue here.”
Vanessa Bryant wanted the names to include in her lawsuit against the county and the sheriff’s department seeking damages for negligence and invasion of privacy for the deputies sharing the images of the victims’ remains, KTLA reported.
“The Sheriff’s Department wants to redact the names of the deputies that took and/or shared photos of my husband, daughter and other victims,” Vanessa Bryant posted to Instagram before the ruling. “Anyone else facing allegations would be unprotected, named and released to the public… These specific deputies need to be held accountable for their actions just like everyone else.”
Sheriff Villanueva initially expressed horror a year ago when he learned that five full-time deputies and three reservists were involved in taking graphic photographs of the mangled wreckage in the wake of the Jan. 26 crash, KMSB reported.
“I was horrified,” he said. “I just felt betrayed by my own deputies.”
“It’s such a hard thing to do as a first responder, go to a scene of such a horrific accident, talking to the families, three families that were there at the Lost Hills station, personally, and their concerns about privacy, and how we could make the day better for them if any way possible,” the sheriff continued. “And to have this happen, it was heartbreaking.”
The deputies were sent to the scene to secure the crash site – not to take photographs.
“They had no place to be taking any photographs of anything,” Sheriff Villanueva told KMSB.
According to KCAL, one of the deputies who took photos of the wreckage and human remains was a trainee.
He allegedly later showed the images to a girl he was trying to impress at a bar.
The bartender overheard the exchange and filed an online complaint about what the deputy had allegedly done, KCAL reported.
All eight of the involved deputies were placed under internal investigation, according to KMSB.
And the sheriff promised all the pictures had been ordered to be destroyed.
The only people authorized to take pictures of the crash scene were personnel from the coroner’s office and the National Transportation Safety Board, KMSB reported.
LASD policy does not specifically prohibit first responders from taking photos of accident scenes, Sheriff Villanueva acknowledged.
He said he plans to push for a law change that would allow for first responders to be criminally investigated in similar incidents in the future.
It is unclear whether the deputies accused of being involved in the leaked photo scandal will face disciplinary action from the sheriff’s department, KMSB reported.