L.A. County Sheriff Sued by Union to Keep Graphic Kobe Picture Investigation Private

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva -Getty H 2020
Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

Eight deputies are accused of sharing images from the helicopter crash site.

The union for deputies of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is suing Sheriff Alex Villanueva to keep an internal affairs investigation into the alleged distribution of graphic Kobe Bryant crash-site photos private. 

The suit on behalf of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs was filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court. The suit names Villanueva, the department and 20 unidentified people as defendants. 

According to documents obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, the union seeks to halt any public dissemination of the final internal affairs report, which would include the names of eight deputies. 

"An actual controversy now exists between plaintiff and defendants, in that the defendants apparently believe they have the right to publicly release the internal affairs investigation into the conduct of the officers involved in the investigation of the Kobe Bryant crash site … and the plaintiff believes the defendants do not have such right," reads the suit. 

The NBA superstar, his daughter and seven others were killed Jan. 26 when their helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California.

In early February, the sheriff said he ordered eight deputies who allegedly took gruesome photos of the crash site to delete the images from their personal devices. An internal affairs investigation was opened after it came to light that the deputies were allegedly sharing the pictures both within the department and, in at least one instance, in public. 

"That was my No. 1 priority, was to make sure those photos no longer exist," Villanueva said at the time. "We identified the deputies involved, they came to the station on their own and had admitted they had taken them and they had deleted them. And, we're content that those involved did that." It is unclear if the deputies were disciplined.

Around that time, Bryant's widow, Vanessa, whose teenage daughter Gianna also died in the crash, blasted the accused deputies. "This is an unspeakable violation of human decency, respect, and of the privacy rights of the victims and their families," Vanessa Bryant's attorney, Gary C. Robb, said. "We are demanding that those responsible for these alleged actions face the harshest possible discipline, and that their identities be brought to light, to ensure that the photos are not further disseminated."