Vanessa Bryant, the wife of beloved NBA champion Kobe Bryant, has filed a legal claim against the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. The complaint stems from unauthorized photographs that were taken by officials in the aftermath of the fatal January 26th helicopter crash that claimed the life of her husband, their 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
In the claim, which was exclusively obtained by PEOPLE, Vanessa is seeking damages for emotional distress and mental anguish that she experienced after it was revealed that eight L.A. County Sheriff’s Department deputies snapped graphic photographs of the victims at the crash site. Despite Vanessa personally requesting that Sheriff Alex Villanueva secure the scene for privacy on the morning of the crash, the images were shared with unauthorized people. Vanessa was first made aware of the photo’s through various news outlets late in February, nearly a month after her legal team claims the department became aware of the photos.
Villanueva confirmed to reporters not long after the crash that only the county coroner’s office and investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board were authorized to photograph the scene.
“That is the only two groups of people,” Villanueva explained in March. “Anybody outside of that would be unauthorized. They’d be illicit photos.”
During a March appearance on NBC’s Today show, Villanueva revealed that he was initially made aware of the photographs when a deputy trainee was allegedly caught sharing the images to someone at a bar where a witness overheard the conversation and notified the department via an online complaint, according to PEOPLE.
According to the legal docs, “In reality, however, no fewer than eight sheriff’s deputies were at the scene snapping cell-phone photos of the dead children, parents, and coaches. As the department would later admit, there was no investigative purpose for deputies to take pictures at the crash site. Rather, the deputies took photos for their own personal purposes.”
Allegedly, at least two L.A. firefighters took photographs as well and were ordered to delete them.
“This [filing] solely is about enforcing accountability, protecting the victims and making sure no one ever has to deal with this conduct in the future,” a spokesperson for the Bryant family said in a statement to PEOPLE.
“Mrs. Bryant has suffered an immense tragedy by losing her husband and daughter; her grief has been compounded by the severe emotional distress caused by the sheriff’s deputies’ misconduct and the Sheriff’s Department’s mishandling of that misconduct,” the legal claim also stated.