You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Vanessa Bryant learned that the LA Sheriff's Department deleted graphic photos of the crash that killed Kobe and Gianna from an LA Times story, chief testifies

INSIDER logo INSIDER 8/17/2022 esnodgrass@insider.com (Erin Snodgrass,Azmi Haroun)
Vanessa Bryant and Kobe Bryant Donato Sardella/Getty Images © Donato Sardella/Getty Images Vanessa Bryant and Kobe Bryant Donato Sardella/Getty Images
  • An LASD chief testified in the Vanessa Bryant trial this week about an agency cover up over crash photos.
  • Jorge Valdez said department officials lied to a reporter about a deletion order over the pictures.
  • The families of those killed in the helicopter crash learned about the deleted photos from a news story.

Vanessa Bryant, who had just lost her husband and 13-year-old daughter in a grisly helicopter crash, found out via a Los Angeles Times article that the LA County Sheriff's Department issued an agency-wide deletion order of graphic photos that responding deputies took at the scene of the crash, an LASD media relations captain testified this week.

Chief Jorge Valdez, who in January 2020 was working as a spokesperson for the department, acknowledged in court on Tuesday that he helped cover up a citizen complaint for nearly a month after a deputy was seen sharing gruesome photos of the crash site at a Norwalk bar. 

Valdez's testimony continued on Wednesday morning, kicking off the sixth day of the trial between Vanessa Bryant and Los Angeles County. Vanessa Bryant filed a lawsuit against the county and other defendants over allegations that LA sheriff's deputies and Los Angeles County Fire Department captains took and shared photos of the helicopter crash site in late January 2020.

The timeline of events suggests a deeply reactive response from the department, which investigated the photos only after a private citizen complained and news broke of the improper handling of the photos. 

On January 29, 2020 — just three days after the crash that killed Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant, and seven others — private citizen Rafael Mendez filed a complaint with the LASD after he witnessed Deputy Joey Cruz show a bartender graphic photos of the helicopter crash. Valdez, as a media relations captain, was tasked with investigating the complaint, according to emails shown in court.

By January 31, Valdez testified that he had retrieved security footage from the bar of Cruz showing the photos. He had also spoken with Mendez, who filed the complaint.

He was also helping to relay Sheriff Alex Villanueva's department-wide order to staff to "not let the photos see the light of day – " an order that at least one deputy said in court he had grave concerns about.

But when a Los Angeles Times reporter began probing into the complaint in late February, the department played dumb. Valdez, Villanueva, and another media relations staff member lied to the journalist, Valdez testified this week, denying any knowledge of the complaint or deletion order.

"We're such a large organization, Valdez told The Times. "I'm unaware of any complaint."

Meanwhile, a USB containing the surveillance footage from the bar sat in Valdez's office for nearly the entire month without any official review.

By February 28, the LASD had given staff who shared crash site photos a minor disciplinary slap on the wrist, and issued a statement saying that the agency was "deeply disturbed," by "allegations" that staff had taken and shared photos.

In court on Tuesday, Valdez admitted that the helicopter crash victims' family members learned about the complaint and deletion order via the LA Times story, and not from the agency itself. He also testified that the department never did reach out to Vanessa Bryant or other victims' families about the photos or deletion order. 

And it wasn't until two days after the LA Times piece was published that the department started its own internal investigation into the photos, he testified.

Valdez on Wednesday admitted that he "bungled that interview" with the LA Times, but defended himself and his superiors, saying "time was of the essence" when it came to making sure the photos were all deleted.

In the more than two years since the crash, Valdez has received two promotions to his new role as chief of the east patrol division.

Meanwhile, a high-ranking LA sheriff's deputy voiced concerns following the deletion order, he testified earlier this week. He was transferred just weeks later. The Sheriff's Department said the demotion was over his botched handling of a sexual assault investigation at Pepperdine University.

Read the original article on Insider
AdChoices
AdChoices

More from INSIDER

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon