LOS ANGELES – The union for Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies has reached a settlement in its legal action taken against Sheriff Alex Villanueva and others aimed at keeping an internal investigation into the alleged distribution of graphic Kobe Bryant crash-site photos private.
Lawyers for the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs filed a notice of settlement on Tuesday with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary H. Strobel. No terms were divulged. A nonjury trial of the case had been scheduled for Sept. 13.
The petition filed in May 2020 named Villanueva, the department and 20 unidentified “Does” as defendants. It sought to prevent the public release of the final internal affairs report.
Bryant, 41, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others were killed Jan. 26, 2020, when their helicopter crashed in Calabasas. The next month, Villanueva 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.
The union’s petition noted that on May 10, 2020, Villanueva said during a news conference, “We’re still completing the investigation, it’s getting near its conclusion and once we have it completed we will be releasing it publicly with all the information that will answer all your questions.”
Ten days later, Villanueva said, “We’re going to make the entire investigation public so everybody can read it for themselves. And we’ll post that online,” according to the union’s petition.
“Plaintiff (ALADS) desires a judicial determination of these controversies and a declaration that defendants do not have a right to publicly release the internal affairs investigation into the conduct of the officers involved in investigating the Kobe Bryant crash in contravention of (the state Penal and Evidence codes),” the petition stated.
Vanessa Bryant, widow of the NBA legend, sued Los Angeles County in September 2020, accusing county fire and sheriff’s department employees of improperly taking and sharing photos of her dead husband and daughter. Trial of the federal court case was recently delayed until mid-August.