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There appears to be a massive coverup and scandal surrounding law enforcement taking and sharing graphic photos from the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight other people, including his teenage daughter, in late January. Recent developments in the investigation could prompt the NBA star’s widow, Vannesa Bryant, to take legal action against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in an apparent negligent and insensitive breach of duty by first responders.

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The Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday that “for nearly five weeks, the leadership of the Sheriff’s Department tried to keep a lid on the episode instead of following the normal investigative protocols — even after determining that several more deputies had obtained photos.”

The only reason why Vanessa Bryant and the public know about the deputies’ photos of the crash scene and its victims was because a person at a local bar saw a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputy “showing gruesome photos taken at the scene of the tragedy,” the L.A. Times reported. 

“He was working the day the helicopter went down and took pictures of the crash site and bodies,” the person who observed the deputy wrote in a complaint on the Sheriff’s Department’s website that notified the Sheriff’s Information Bureau, which is how the L.A. Times found out about it and broke the story.

Considering all of the above, Vanessa Bryant, who has sued the company that owns the helicopter that crashed with her husband, daughter and seven others aboard, might be contemplating the same legal treatment for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Sheriff Alex Villanueva reportedly ordered the deputies involved to delete the images from their phones, but the L.A. Times reported that doing so could be considered as destroying evidence in a case that is being investigated independently of the police department. 

Vanessa Bryant posted a statement to her Instagram account this week demanding that the deputies involved face the “harshest possible discipline.” However, as of Wednesday morning, their job statuses and identities remained unclear.

“Villanueva said no department policy specifically addresses deputies photographing such crash scenes on their personal cellphones, and that he plans to change that,” the L.A. Times reported, citing local news outlet KNBC. “However, according to the Sheriff’s Department’s Manual of Policies and Procedures, members shall not use a personal cellphone ‘to record, store, document, catalog, transmit, and/or forward any image, document, scene, or environment captured as a result of their employment and/or while performing official Department business that is not available or accessible to the general public.’”

Late last month, Vanessa Bryant filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Fillmore-based Island Express Holding Corp. and Island Express Helicopters. The suit alleges that pilot Ara Zobayan, who also died in the Jan. 26 helicopter crash in Calabasas, failed “to use ordinary care in piloting the subject aircraft” and was negligent.

“Defendant Island Express Helicopters authorized, directed and/or permitted a flight with full knowledge that the subject helicopter was flying into unsafe weather conditions,” The lawsuit alleged. The complaint also argued that Kobe Bryant died “as a direct result of the negligent conduct of Zobayan” for which “the company is vicariously liable in all respects.”

The complaint filed by Vanessa Bryant is 27 pages long and also lists Zobayan’s estate as a defendant and it seeks compensatory and punitive damages. The actual amount was not disclosed.

The suit also says that the company didn’t enact “adequate training and/or supervision” after the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) citation “to ensure the negligent action did not re-occur” and claims it “promoted and engaged in unnecessary and needlessly risky means of transport under the circumstances.”


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