The trial between Vanessa Bryant and Los Angeles County is still ongoing. On Wednesday, the court resumed for day 6, and more testimonies were taken from law enforcement officials and forensic experts.
New revelations surfaced about how LA County handled a citizen’s complaint about one of their officials who was seen sharing graphic photos from the crash site at a bar.
As you might know, the widow of NBA icon Kobe Bryant sued LA County, eight officers, its fire department, and the sheriff’s department for invasion of privacy after they took and distributed photos from the crash site where her husband, her daughter Gianna, and seven others died in January 2020.
The LASD Covered Up A Citizen’s Complaint For A Month
Captain Jorge Valdez, a top official from the LASD media relations took the stand to discuss the role he played in the controversy.
Valdez revealed he was majorly responsible for covering up the complaint of a citizen named Rafael Mendez who reported seeing Deputy Joey Cruz share photos of the crash site at a Norwalk bar with the bartender Victor Gutierrez. Both Gutierrez and Cruz have taken the stands in the previous days.
After Mendez filed the citizen’s complaint, Valdez was tasked with investigating it. However, he did no such thing. Instead, days after the complaint, he retrieved the surveillance footage from the bar that showed Cruz sharing the images and then informed the staff about Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s order for them to “not let the photos see the light of day.”
When the media got involved on February 26 and a reporter for the Los Angeles Times asked about the complaint and Villanueva’s deletion order, Valdez denied having knowledge of either incident. “We’re such a large organization. I’m unaware of any complaint,” he told the publication.
To make things worse, the USB containing the surveillance video of the bar was kept in Valdez’s office for an entire month without being officially reviewed. The LASD only issued minor disciplinary actions to the officers who shared the photos behold.
Valdez also testified that the sheriff’s department never reached out to Vanessa or the families of the other victims to tell them that the photos were deleted. Kobe’s widow and the crash victims’ families only found out through a Los Angeles Times article published on February 28.
Wiped Devices, Violation Of Forensic Policies
Forensic expert David Freskos, hired by Vanessa’s legal team also took the stand. During his deposition, he testified against the LASD, noting that they tampered with data and “violated fundamental forensic policies.”
During an investigation into the photos, 28 phones were submitted from the LASD and LA County Fire Department to the tech firm Kroll Inc. for forensic analysis.
While on the stand, Freskos testified that the deputies whose devices were submitted either deleted the graphic crash photos or gave new phones in a bid to mess with the analysis. He mentioned that of the 11 phones turned in by LASD officials, nine were new phones from the time of the crash, containing no relevant data. It also didn’t help that the deputies had very convenient reasons for submitting new phones.
Deputy Doug Johnson, the first staff to take photos of the crash site, claimed he lost his phone in Las Vegas in January 2021. Deputy Rafael Mejia said he upgraded his phone in March 2021 and wasn’t informed about keeping his old phone.
Deputy Raul Versales bought a new phone because his camera lens got destroyed during a motorcycle ride. Of the two phones that weren’t new, one — which belonged to Deputy Cruz — was wiped and set to factory setting. Cruz claimed his device was “breaking, malfunctioning,” so he reset it.
In addition to the phones, retired LACFD captain Brian Jordan submitted a laptop with a missing hard drive. Freskos informed the court that the staff did the opposite of preserving the data and metadata on their phones, making it impossible to determine the spread of the photos.
The tech expert believed that preserving the metadata on the devices submitted would have helped investigators find out who sent the photos and the date and time they were taken alongside other key factors that would precisely determine how far the images spread.
However, the County’s attorneys argued that the deletion of the photos was the only effective way to prevent further dissemination of the crash photos. As for the deputies who submitted new phones, the lawyers claimed they did so independently.