Is This Intentional Spoliation of Evidence? Vanessa Bryant Thinks So: eDiscovery Best Practices

Vanessa Bryant wants a judge to punish Los Angeles County officials with sanctions for destroying photos of Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crash that were allegedly shared, according to court papers filed by her lawyers.

As reported by CNN, the motion filed Monday stated that “Law enforcement officials whose job is to investigate wrongdoing know that the first step in investigating a complaint is to preserve evidence and that destroying evidence is improper. Yet that is exactly what Sheriff (Alex) Villanueva himself ordered Department personnel to do after the Department received a citizen’s complaint that a Sheriff’s deputy was showing photos of the crash site at a bar in Norwalk. That order was highly irregular — unprecedented in deputies’ experience — and out of the chain of command.”

Photos of the January 2020 helicopter crash that killed the NBA legend, his daughter, and seven others, were allegedly shared with people outside of the investigation. In March 2020, L.A. County Sheriff Villanueva said all those photos had been deleted. Vanessa Bryant filed the lawsuit in September 2020 and is suing the county over the alleged photo sharing claiming emotional distress, and a violation of privacy.


“In these circumstances, it is simply unfair to let Defendants argue that the photos were contained and that the risk of trauma is illusory,” said Bryant’s lawyers in a motion filed last week. Lawyers request summary judgment, trial, and an order precluding defendants from arguing that the photos were not spread electronically.

“While the County continues to have the deepest sympathy for the grief Ms. Bryant has suffered, the request by her lawyers for sanctions is an attempt to distract attention from the fact that none of the routine investigative photos taken by County employees have ever been publicly disseminated,” said Skip Miller, partner of the Miller Barondess law firm and outside counsel for L.A. County.

According to the article, the matter is expected to be discussed on November 29 in Los Angeles.

Hat tip to Kelly Twigger for the tip on the story. Looks like we both may have a future Court ruling to cover!


So, what do you think? Is this intentional spoliation of evidence? Will it lead to sanctions? Is there a difference? Maybe. Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the authors and speakers themselves, and do not necessarily represent the views held by my employer, my partners or my clients. eDiscovery Today is made available solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Today should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.


  1. I remember when that happened, and I can understand the sheriff telling the deputies to delete the photos from their phones so that they would not continue to share them. However, if the sheriff himself had copies of the photos, which I would think he did at some point, for him to delete them intentionally to prevent them from being discovered would be spoliation of evidence. But those photos must exist somewhere in a cloud backup, right??

  2. Typically, but not necessarily, Jennifer. At least for iPhones, if you delete them, they go into the Recently Deleted folder where they’re typically deleted for good within 30-40 days. That’s long since passed here, and since (presumably) they’re no longer available (otherwise, there wouldn’t be the need for the motion), I assume that any backups have long been overwritten as well.

  3. Doug, you’re right, that’s likely the case. It’s just the suspicious Sicilian in me that makes me question whether those photos are truly gone for good. 😊 If they do exist, they’re not in the official record. Jen

Leave a Reply