LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- New details in Vanessa Bryant's legal battle against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department raise questions as to whether the sheriff sought to destroy evidence in the case.
Bryant is suing the department over accusations that deputies took and shared graphic photos of the helicopter crash scene where Kobe and Gianna Bryant and seven others died in 2020, without legitimate law enforcement purposes.
Court papers filed by Vanessa's attorneys show a former sheriff's department captain expressed concern that Sheriff Alex Villanueva's order to deputies to delete the pictures from their cellphones could constitute an attempt to destroy evidence.
The court papers say the captain at the sheriff's Lost Hills station had started an inquiry into the issue after a civilian filed a complaint about a deputy sharing graphic photos of the crash to civilians at a bar in Norwalk.
The sheriff later intervened and told deputies if they "came clean" and deleted photos, they would not face discipline. The captain halted the order and expressed concerns to a supervisor that it could represent an effort to destroy evidence.
"After checking-in with the Sheriff's office, the supervisor called the Captain back and stated, 'this is the direction we're gonna go,'" the court documents allege.
The sheriff has said he directed the images be deleted to prevent them from becoming public.
Nine people died on Jan. 26, 2020, when the Sikorsky S-76B they were in crashed onto a hillside in Calabasas.
The National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the crash found that the pilot, Ara Zobayan, became disoriented while flying in thick fog. Zobayan also did not follow training and violated visual flight rules, the investigation found.
Vanessa Bryant is suing the sheriff's department for negligence and invasion of privacy over claims that a deputy took multiple, graphic photos at the scene and showed them to others both within government and civilians.
Los Angeles County lawyers have argued that Vanessa Bryant has no legal basis to sue the sheriff's department because the photos were never shared publicly.