Wave Wire Services
LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles federal judge has granted Vanessa Bryant’s motion to compel depositions of Sheriff Alex Villanueva and Fire Chief Daryl Osby in her lawsuit against the county over photos of the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash scene allegedly taken and circulated by sheriff’s deputies.
In a ruling obtained by City News Service Oct. 26, U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles F. Eick sided with Bryant, saying her purpose in seeking the depositions “is neither abusive nor harassing.”
Bryant sued Los Angeles County last year, alleging that she and her family suffered severe emotional distress after discovering that sheriff’s deputies snapped and shared gruesome photos of the helicopter crash scene where the Lakers legend died, along with their daughter and seven other people.
In his order, Eick wrote that the defendants in the lawsuit identified Villanueva and Osby as “likely to have discoverable information” whom the defendants may use to support their arguments in the case.
The judge wrote that it appears that both Villanueva and Osby have “unique firsthand, non-repetitive knowledge” relevant to the issues in the case and such knowledge is not entirely obtainable from other sources.
To minimize the effect the timing of the depositions might have on the performance of the sheriff and fire chief’s official duties, the judge ordered the depositions be limited to four hours each.
An attorney defending the county said that although he disagreed with the judge’s ruling, Villanueva and Osby would comply.
“While we disagree with the court’s decision, we will make both the sheriff and fire chief available for deposition,” said the statement from attorney Skip Miller. “Their testimony will not change the fact that there is no evidence any photos taken by county first responders have ever been publicly disseminated.”
A message left with Bryant’s lawyer was not immediately answered.
The county is the lead defendant in Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit, which alleges an invasion of privacy that caused her great emotional distress. Villanueva and Osby are not named defendants in the case, but the sheriff’s and fire departments are.
The lawsuit contends that deputies took and shared photos of the human remains at the Calabasas helicopter crash site on Jan. 26, 2020.
“Faced with a scene of unimaginable loss, no fewer than eight sheriff’s deputies at the crash site pulled out their personal cell phones and snapped photos of the dead children, parents and coaches,” the suit states.
Attorneys representing the county have asked a judge to order Bryant to undergo a psychiatric exam to determine whether her distress was caused by the leaked photos or the unexpected loss of her husband of nearly 20 years and their 13-year-old daughter.
The county alleges Bryant and other plaintiffs in the case “cannot be suffering distress from accident site photos that they have never seen and that were never publicly disseminated.”
Bryant’s lawyers have challenged the county’s assertions, saying an “invasive” medical exam is not necessary and that her distress is plainly evident from her own testimony.
“The county’s tactics are simply a cruel attempt to extract a price for victims to obtain accountability,” Bryant’s legal team wrote in a filing in Los Angeles federal court. “Rather than take accountability for conduct the sheriff himself has called ‘wildly inappropriate’ and ‘disgusting,’ the county has chosen to pull out all the stops to make the case as painful as possible.”
In her own deposition Oct. 22, Bryant details how she learned about the crash from a family assistant, rushed to the crash site and later met with Villanueva at the Malibu-Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station, where the sheriff asked if he could do anything for her.
“And I said: `If you can’t bring my husband and baby back, please make sure that no one takes photographs of them. Please secure the area,’” Bryant was quoted as saying in her deposition. Then, after being told by Villanueva that he would, she reiterated, “No, I need you to get on the phone right now and I need you to make sure you secure the area.”
Bryant reportedly told lawyers she wants the emergency workers who took the pictures held accountable and will leave monetary damages up to a jury.