- Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva testified about photos from Kobe Bryant’s crash site on Friday.
- As Los Angeles County’s first witness, Villanueva testified directly after Vanessa Bryant.
- Villanueva maintained that he did the right thing by ordering his staff to delete the photos.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva offered a closer look at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s efforts to contain Kobe Bryant’s gruesome helicopter crash site after the tragic event, defending his order to remove the photos due to “an infinitely expanding universe”.
Villanueva, the first Los Angeles County witness called to the stand, testified directly after Vanessa Bryant on the eighth day of Vanessa Bryant and Chris Chester’s consolidated trial against the county.
During his testimony, Villanueva doubled down on the removal order he requested after learning of a citizen complaint that Deputy Joey Cruz had displayed graphic photos at a bar in Norwalk, California.
“The longer we delayed, it was an infinitely expanding universe,” Villanueva said. He stated that with the demands for legal and union representation by his staff, a traditional initial investigation into who had taken the photos and distributed them could have been prolonged, and the photos could have spread further.
“Dealing with a crisis is more important than politics,” Villanueva said. “There was no playbook for a situation like this.”
During that meeting at the Lost Hills sheriff’s station, Villanueva said he told his staff to “present the photos and who you sent them to, and you will not be disciplined.”
He admitted during cross-examination that in that “first look” search and removal order on the Friday after the crash, his staff’s phones were not searched at the time, and he took their word for it to remove the photos.
Emails shown during Villanueva’s testimony showed that Vanessa Bryant’s attorneys requested on March 2, 2020, that LASD preserve all evidence related to the taking and sharing of photos at the crash site prior to her lawsuit. . By March 26, 2020, LASD responded and said it would not be able to help with the request, citing in part the California Public Records Act and an ongoing internal investigation into the release of the photos.
In September 2020, Vanessa Bryant sued the Los Angeles County, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and the Los Angeles County Fire Department over photos taken at the helicopter crash site of Kobe and Gianna Bryant that she claimed they were shared by officers and other first responders.
By December of that year, the findings of the internal investigation were shared with Bryant’s team while the case was underway.
Villanueva told the court that the devices of an “8-player baseball park” were found to possess the photos. He added that he had not heard testimony from LASD search and rescue leader David Katz that Officer Doug Johnson had taken nearly 100 photos at the scene.
“The fact that he hasn’t been on social media at this point in the game means they did a good job,” Villanueva said. “I granted them amnesty to prevent the spread.”
Disagreeing with earlier interviews from March 2020, where he said only the coroner’s office and the NTSB should have taken photos, Villanueva said the information he has since collected about the wildfire and the threat of “stares” at the crash site meant that some of his staff did the right thing by taking pictures at the crash scene to “preserve the scene” for federal investigators.
Villanueva testified that he believed his agency’s investigators were thorough and confirmed that he expected them to look for cloud accounts as well as phones.
Asked if he knew for sure the photos were permanently deleted, Villanueva said “God knows, that’s it.”