- LA Sheriff Alex Villanueva testified on Friday about the photos of Kobe Bryant’s crash site.
- As the first Los Angeles County witness, Villanueva testified right after Vanessa Bryant.
- Villanueva claimed he did the right thing by ordering his staff to remove the photos.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva offered a glimpse into the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s efforts to contain Kobe Bryant’s horrific helicopter crash site after the tragic event, defending his takedown order of the photos because of “a universe that expanded infinitely. “
Villanueva, the first Los Angeles County witness to be called to trial, testified immediately after Vanessa Bryant on the eighth day of the consolidated trial of Vanessa Bryant and Chris Chester against the county.
During his testimony, Villanueva doubled down on the eviction notice he requested after hearing of a civilian complaint that Deputy Joey Cruz had displayed graphic photos at a bar in Norwalk, California.
“The longer we postponed, it was a universe that expanded infinitely,” Villanueva said. He claimed that with the demands of legal and union representation by his staff, a traditional initial inquiry into who had taken and distributed the photos could have been set up, and the photos could have spread further.
“Dealing with a crisis is more important than policy,” Villanueva said. “There was no script for a situation like this.”
During that meeting at the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Office, Villanueva said he told his staff, “Come forward with any photos and who you sent them to, and you won’t face any disciplinary action.”
He admitted during questioning that his staff’s phones were not searched at the time in that “first blush” search and removal order the Friday after the crash, and he took their word for the photos to be deleted.
Emails shown during Villanueva’s testimony revealed that on March 2, 2020, Vanessa Bryant’s attorneys requested that LASD keep all evidence related to the taking and sharing of photos at the crash site pending their trial. On March 26, 2020, LASD responded, saying it would be unable to assist with the request, citing in part the California Public Records Act and an ongoing internal investigation into the dissemination of the photos.
In September 2020, Vanessa Bryant sued Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the County Fire Department over photos taken at the scene of the Kobe and Gianna Bryant helicopter crash that she says were shared by officers and other first responders.
In December of that year, the findings of the internal investigation were shared with Bryant’s team while the case was ongoing.
Villanueva told the court it was determined to have the photos in the possession of a “ballpark of 8” deputies. He added that he had not heard testimony from LASD search and rescue chief David Katz that Deputy Doug Johnson had taken nearly a hundred photos at the scene.
“The fact that it hasn’t appeared on social media at this point in the game means they’ve done a good job,” Villanueva said. “I have granted them amnesty to prevent the spread.”
Villanueva disagreed with previous March 2020 interviews, in which he said only the coroner’s office and the NTSB should have been allowed to take photos. some of his associates did the right thing by taking photos of the accident scene to “preserve the place” for federal investigators.
Villanueva testified that he believed his agency’s investigators were thorough and confirmed that he expected them to search both cloud accounts and phones.
When asked if he was sure the photos were permanently deleted, Villanueva said that “god knows, that’s about it.”
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