Vanessa Bryant wants the former highest-ranking LASD officer near Kobe helicopter crash site to testify about internal tension following Sheriff's order to delete photos, according to new filings

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Vanessa Bryant (left) and Kobe Bryant (right) touching heads to pose for a photo in black and white attire
Vanessa Bryant and Kobe BryantDonato Sardella/Getty Images
  • Vanessa Bryant wants a demoted LASD captain to testify at the July trial around Kobe crash photos.

  • Her legal team claimed that the captain was transferred because he was concerned about a cover-up.

  • LA County attorneys said he was transferred due to a botched sexual assault investigation days after the crash.

Lawyers representing Vanessa Bryant in her lawsuit against Los Angeles County claimed that the highest-ranking LA Sheriff's Department officer stationed near Kobe and Gianna's helicopter crash was demoted after being reluctant to participate in a cover-up scheme, according to new filings.

In a series of filings outlining witness lists and evidence ahead of a July 26 trial, Bryant's team made their case for Captain Matthew Vander Horck to testify.

Vander Horck was a former officer at the Lost Hills-Malibu LASD station, and Bryant's team claimed that he also has intimate knowledge of an alleged internal cover-up scheme involving the graphic photos — allegations the County has called a "conspiracy,"

"He is expected to testify about the Department's initial response to the citizen complaint, concerns he expressed regarding the Sheriff's order to delete photograph," Bryant's lawyers wrote in new filings.

Her lawyers wrote that they would also seek testimony about "his transfer and temporary demotion to lieutenant at the direction of the Sheriff in the weeks after the citizen complaint."

In September 2020, Vanessa Bryant sued the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the county's fire department, the county as a whole, and eight officers in the wake of reports that first responders took and shared photos of Kobe and Gianna Bryant's January 2020 crash site. LA Sheriff Alex Villanueva has admitted that he instructed staff to delete photos after the crash.

Bryant accused the first responders of "negligence" and "intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of her right to privacy." She is suing for undisclosed damages.

Vander Horck was transferred and demoted weeks after the January 2020 crash on February 18, 2020, over the botched handling of a sexual assault investigation at Pepperdine University, according to the Sheriff's Department.

Attorneys for the County do not believe any evidence or testimony related to Vander Horck should be introduced at the trial.

If their attempt to bar him from testifying is rejected by a judge, County attorneys said "Vander Horck will testify that his transfer had nothing to do with his handling of the January 26, 2020 crash or the crash site photos, but instead related to his mishandling of a sexual assault allegation."

And in a witness list that calls for upward of 50 witnesses to testify, the parties sparred over what role Vander Horck could play at the trial. Bryant's attorneys have also called for the citizens who filed complaints about being shown the crash site photos by LASD officers and LACFD staff to testify during the trial.

"Exhibit 131 reflects Captain Vander Horck forwarding a chain email with his supervisors related to the citizen complaint about the photos from his work account to his personal Gmail account," her attorneys wrote in a recent filing. "Vander Horck's transfer from the Lost Hills Station to the Men's Central Jail occurred three weeks after he voiced concerns about Sheriff Villanueva's instruction that deputies delete photos in exchange for amnesty."

"Vander Horck testified at deposition that he forwarded the correspondence with his supervisors to his own Gmail account because he thought he may need to pursue legal action related to the unwanted transfer," Bryant's lawyers added.

They added that his testimony could show how Villanueva "elected to discipline only the individual who voiced concern and refrained from disciplining individuals who took and shared photos of the victims' remains."

At a July pre-trial hearing, County attorneys are expected to argue that Vander Horck's testimony is irrelevant.

"Plaintiff's conspiracy theory is wrong," the County's attorneys wrote. "Even if Plaintiff's whistleblower/retaliation theory were true (it's not), evidence of Captain Vander Horck's opinions about how Sheriff Villanueva handled LASD's internal investigation or discipline surrounding the crash site has no bearing on the actual issues in this case — whether photos were disseminated in violation of Plaintiff's rights."

Attorneys representing both parties did not immediately respond to Insider's requests for comment.

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