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Judge rules names of deputies who allegedly shared photos of Kobe Bryant crash can be made public

Judge rules names of deputies who allegedly shared photos of Kobe Bryant crash can be made public
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A federal judge ruled on Monday that the names of the deputies who allegedly shared photos of remains at the site of the helicopter crash that killed NBA star Kobe Bryant and eight others could be made public. 

U.S. District Court Judge John F. Walter denied the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s request to seal the names of the deputies, saying the department “failed to demonstrate compelling reasons” to keep their identities secret amid the public interest in the misconduct case.

"Although the Court recognizes that this case has been the subject of public scrutiny and media attention and that the Deputy Defendants are legitimately concerned that they will encounter vitriol and social media attacks, such concerns, by themselves, are not sufficient to outweigh the public’s strong interest in access," the ruling said, according to a portion posted to Instagram by Bryant’s widow Vanessa Bryant.

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Walter, a George W. Bush appointee, also argued that Sheriff Alex Villanueva previously contradicted the department’s argument that it was concerned hackers could get access to individual deputies’ electronics to find any photos and publish them.

Villanueva had previously acknowledged that deputies had captured and shared photos of the victims’ remains and told reporters that he demanded all photos be deleted, NBC Los Angeles reported.  

"Defendants’ concern that hackers may attempt to seek out and gain access to the individual deputies’ devices to locate any photographs and publish them is totally inconsistent with their position that such photographs no longer exist," Walter wrote in the ruling.

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The helicopter crash last January outside of Los Angeles killed the 41-year-old basketball star, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people. 

Vanessa Bryant called on the sheriff’s department to release the names of the deputies in a post to her Instagram stories last month. 

"They want their names to be exempt from the public," she posted. "Anyone else facing these allegations would be unprotected, named and released to the public."

"Not all law enforcement is bad,” she added. “These specific deputies need to be held accountable for their actions, just like everyone else.”

In an Instagram post celebrating the ruling, she thanked Walter and her legal team.

Vanessa Bryant filed a lawsuit against the sheriff’s department last September over the allegations of first responders sharing photos of the crash and remains.

Her lawyer Luis Li released a statement to The Hill in response to Monday's decision saying, "Transparency promotes accountability. We look forward to presenting Mrs. Bryant’s case in open court.”

The sheriff's department told The Hill in a statement that it is aware of the ruling and plans to comply. 

"The Sheriff is committed to transparency and public safety while balancing the safety of our Department employees," the statement said.

-- Updated 5:25 p.m.