Los Angeles County says Vanessa Bryant is going too far in lawsuit over grisly photos
The county of Los Angeles has accused the widow of Kobe Bryant of conducting a fishing expedition that is taking first responders away from their jobs and subjecting them to harassment after she sued them and posted four of their names on Instagram in March.
Vanessa Bryant is suing the county for negligence and invasion of privacy, accusing county sheriff and fire department employees of improperly sharing photos from a helicopter crash last year that killed nine, including Bryant’s daughter and husband, the NBA legend. In response, the county is fighting back and suggested in a new court filing this week that she is going too far with a “scorched earth” search for information.
“This straightforward case, with undisputed facts, has turned into a fishing expedition that is taking first responders away from their jobs — and subjecting them to public harassment and threats,” said a filing submitted in federal court this week by attorneys for the county. “Defendants are eager to have their day in Court and put an end to this.”
Bryant’s lawsuit seeks to punish the deputy defendants and “make an example of them to the community" after she said they shared graphic photos of the victims’ remains "without any legitimate governmental purpose."
First responders are on the scene of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others in January 2020. (Photo: Mark J. Terrill, AP)
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In this quest, she has asked the court to extend the cutoff date for the discovery of evidence in the case, allowing her more time to gather information and conduct witness depositions. She wants that deadline moved from August to February.
But the county said there is no basis for an extension and stated there was no public dissemination of photos. The county said “only government personnel and one friend saw the photographs in question” and that there is no basis for her lawsuit.
“Plaintiff has dedicated countless hours to meaningless discovery disputes and posting recklessly about the Defendants on social media—all while taking the position that her 50 depositions cannot begin until she has every single document in the County’s possession,” the county’s filing stated. “That is not diligence. There is no basis for modifying the scheduling order.”
Bryant initially filed suit last year but amended her lawsuit in March to include the names of four sheriff’s deputies she accuses of sharing the photos, including one who allegedly did so at a bar two days after the accident. She then went on Instagram to post their names and highlight them with a red box drawn around them.
“Plaintiff posted the Deputy Defendants’ names online, and they were subjected to harassment and threats,” said a declaration filed in court by attorney Mira Hashmall, who represents the deputies and the county.
Hashmall attached an exhibit to her filing that shows online reactions to Bryant’s naming of the deputies, including one that said, “PULL EM OUTTA HIDING LIKE ROACHES THEY ARE.”
The county said Bryant has served 126 RFPS (or requests for production) and that the county defendants have completed seven document productions containing 29,941 pages.
Bryant “knows that only one non-governmental individual saw accident site photographs depicting human remains,” the county’s filing states. “Because of how (Bryant) phrased her interrogatories, responses include names of first responders who took accident site photographs not depicting human remains and those who shared accident site photographs with other personnel and agencies (like NTSB) for official purposes. Plaintiff knows there has been no public dissemination.”
Bryant’s attorneys see it differently. They recently asked for more time to gather evidence after saying they learned that the misconduct by public safety workers is "more expansive and more egregious than (Bryant) originally understood.” They said 66 county employees have relevant knowledge of the misconduct and that at least 18 sheriff and fire employees “took, shared and/or possessed” improper photos at the scene of the crash.
The county has expressed condolences to the Bryant family for their loss. It said in a court filing last month that it does not condone “this showing of accident site photographs” and has taken corrective personnel actions accordingly.
“The accident was now close to 1.5 years ago, and there has been no public dissemination” of the photos, the county’s filing this week said. “Hypothetical harm is not a basis for a lawsuit. Nor is it a basis for `no stone left unturned’ discovery against public entities and first responders.”
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: [email protected]
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