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L.A. County sheriff, fire chief must give deposition in Kobe Bryant crash photos suit, judge rules

Vanessa Bryant is suing Los Angeles County and other agencies alleging invasion of privacy and that photos of the deadly crash were passed around.
Image: Sheriff Alex Villanueva seen speaking to the media during a
Sheriff Alex Villanueva speaks to the media during a press conference in Los Angeles on Feb. 27, 2019.Ronen Tivony / SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images file

LOS ANGELES — A federal judge Tuesday ordered Los Angeles County's sheriff and fire chief to give depositions in a lawsuit over the alleged sharing of photos of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant.

The lawsuit, brought by Bryant's widow, Vanessa Bryant, involves allegations that first responders shared photos of the Jan. 26, 2020, crash that killed the NBA legend, their 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven other people.

In his ruling Tuesday, magistrate Judge Charles F. Eick wrote that Sheriff Alex Villanueva and fire department Chief Daryl Osby appear to have "unique first-hand, non-repetitive knowledge" that is relevant.

Bryant is suing Los Angeles County and several agencies alleging invasion of privacy and other claims.

Eick granted a motion by Bryant's attorneys to compel the depositions of Villanueva and Osby, but considering their duties, limited them to four hours each.

The county had fought the move to depose the two officials, arguing that they are not named defendants, that generally the heads of government agencies are not subject to depositions and that other witnesses have the information sought.

“While we disagree with the court’s decision, we will make both the Sheriff and Fire Chief available for deposition," Skip Miller, outside counsel for Los Angeles County, said in a statement. "Their testimony will not change the fact that there is no evidence any photos taken by County first responders have ever been publicly disseminated."

Federal investigators have found that the pilot's "spatial disorientation" likely caused the crash.

The lawsuit claims that first responders, including sheriff's deputies and county fire department personnel, took graphic photos of bodies without any legitimate government purpose. Photos of Kobe Bryant's remains were allegedly shown to a bartender and bar patron in one instance.

The Los Angeles Times first reported last year that sheriff's deputies shared photos of the crash scene. Villanueva later said eight deputies were alleged to have taken or shared photos, and he ordered then deleted.

According to a transcript of her deposition, Vanessa Bryant pleaded with Villanueva to ensure that no one would take photographs, and he reassured her that the area had been secured.

She said in a deposition that she repeatedly received disturbing images through social media of the helicopter crash, according to a transcript. Bryant said she wants accountability.