New documents suggest photos of Kobe Bryant crash have spread widely among workers

A fire officer showed the disturbing photos to a group of people during cocktail hour before a gala. A sheriff’s deputy shared the footage with a bartender, who grimaced and slashed his neck. Another MP, who couldn’t believe how horrible the footage was, passed it on to a colleague while playing online video games with his friends.

Photos of the bodies of Lakers star Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others who died in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles in January 2020 have been shared on at least 28 devices belonging to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department staff and by at least a dozen Los Angeles County firefighters, according to the latest legal documents filed by the legal team of Vanessa Bryant, the widow of Kobe Bryant.

Court documents, based on depositions and the forensic investigation of cell phones, attempt to demonstrate the chain that formed to broadcast the footage and how much it was shared. Bryant is suing the county and some of its agencies and employees, claiming to have experienced emotional distress over sharing the photos, while the county has denied any wrongdoing and said it has made every effort to keep the photos out of the public eye. reach the public when those responsible have become aware of them.

Several of those who saw the photos described the remains in crass terms, a point Bryant said in the documents made matters worse.

“I imagine Kobe monitoring what happened at the scene of the accident, and I am overcome with anger and emotion,” Bryant wrote in a statement accompanying the documents.

She added: “I also feel extreme sadness and anger knowing that the photos of my husband and daughter’s bodies were laughed at at a screening at a bar and at an awards banquet. “

The documents were filed in response to Los Angeles County’s motion in November for summary judgment, asking for the lawsuit to be dismissed.

A hearing is scheduled for December 27.

Louis Miller, the lawyer known as Skip who the county hired for the case, said in a statement that the county sympathizes with Bryant’s losses, but that he was not at fault.

County rescuers, he said, “responded to this accident and, at his specific request, set up a no-fly zone, went to great lengths to keep the public and the paparazzi at bay, and ensured that none of the investigative photos were ever released publicly. . The county has done its job and believes that this lawsuit is unfounded.

Bryant’s legal team disputed the county’s statements, saying sharing the photos among workers without any discernible investigative purpose amounted to public release. The attorneys’ submission includes depositions from workers who shared the photos as well as forensic evidence from the phones to trace the sharing of the photos.

Tony Imbrenda, an information officer with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, shared the footage with a group of firefighters and a few others at a gala honoring emergency medical workers, according to the documents.

“I just saw Kobe’s body all burned before I was about to eat,” a passer-by remarked, according to the file.

Last year, Imbrenda, who has not commented on the case, filed a lawsuit against the county after being demoted for refusing to hand over his personal cell phone. Imbrenda had received some of the footage on her work cell phone from Brian Jordan, a security guard, who misrepresented himself at the crash scene as the fire chief in charge of media relations , according to Bryant’s legal team. Jordan sent photos to several others, according to the documents. He was fired by the ministry before taking early retirement. A message left with his lawyer was not returned.

The images circulated among the sheriff’s department staff like a chain message.

Doug Johnson, a sheriff’s deputy who is not named a defendant in Bryant’s trial, captured photos of the remains with his personal cell phone, according to the documents, and at least four images have focused closely on parts of the body of Kobe and Gianna Bryant. He sent the photos to another deputy, Raul Versales, who said “he didn’t need to have the photos” but sent them to four other members of the department.

Deputy Michael Russell, who testified that he asked for the photos out of curiosity, shared them with another deputy while playing a video game. Deputy Joey Cruz introduced them to a bartender, which prompted a citizen complaint to the Sheriff’s Department in February 2020.

In response, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva asked his staff to remove the photos immediately after learning of the complaint. They were not disciplined, according to the county file, because, in the county’s opinion, the photos have not been released publicly.

“I can tell you that I did exactly what needed to be done to make sure there was no more harm to the family,” Villanueva said, adding, “if I had to do it all over again, I would do probably the exact same decision. “

Vanessa Bryant had asked Villanueva to secure the site on the day of the crash and make sure no photos of the deceased leaked.

Bryant’s legal team maintain that the photos may already be in the public domain and those taken by rescue workers have been deleted in order to destroy the evidence. The county maintains that ordering employees to remove the photos was in fact in line with Bryant’s wish to no longer release them.

But attorneys representing Bryant said they were told by citizens of other cases of the photo being released. An Orange County law enforcement officer who was not part of the crash response showed the photos at a bar, lawyers said in a file. An unknown person forwarded a Twitter post to Bryant that claimed to be a photo of Kobe Bryant’s remains that matched authentic images from the crash site, lawyers said.

The deposits are the latest in a hotly contested case. In previous rulings, a judge has ruled that Villanueva and Daryl Osby, the Los Angeles County Fire Chief, should sit for depositions – Villanueva did, and Osby’s is pending – and Bryant and his therapist were forced to produce documents relating to their sessions.

Kevin Draper contributed reports.

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