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Vanessa Bryant Sues L.A. County Sheriff Over Leaked Kobe Bryant Crash Photos

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Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

Vanessa Bryant puts in place a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Sheriff Alex Villanueva for photos being leaked showing the helicopter crash that killed the NBA legend, her husband, Kobe Bryant, their 13-year-old daughter Gianna, along with seven other friends and passengers in January 2020.

What We Know:

  • After that devastating crash in January, reports emerged that graphic photos of the victims were being shared. Vanessa’s lawyer stated she was distraught by all the news and stories.
  • This current lawsuit seeks damages for negligence, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Vanessa claims officials did not contact her about the helicopter crash, which she states in the filing, left her feeling “confused and distraught”.
  • There was a previous wrongful death lawsuit filed by Vanessa against the helicopter conductor who was involved in the crash that killed her husband, Kobe Bryant, and their daughter Gianna Bryant.

  • The lawsuit also stated, no less than eight sheriff’s agents present at the crash site took their personal cell phones and took photos of the deceased children, parents, and coaches. The officers took these photos for their own personal satisfaction.
  • After she inquired more information on the leaked photos, the lawsuit stated an attorney for the sheriff’s department answered that the department had no legal responsibility to respond to her questions and would not do so.
  • Sheriff Alex Villanueva previously mentioned to reporters that eight deputies took or shared graphic photos of the scene, and he ordered the images to be deleted. The sheriff stated the department has a policy against taking and sharing crime scene photos, but it does not pertain to accident scenes.
  • The claim also mentions that Vanessa Bryant is worried that her daughters might find or see those horrific pictures online.

Gavin Newsom, California governor, has not yet signed a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for first responders to take prohibited photos of dead people in the scene of an accident or crime. The crash photos put in motion the legislation.

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Ex-Buffalo Officer Fired for Reporting Chokehold to Receive Pension after Lawsuit Win

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Officer Cariol Horne stopped coworker Greg Kwiatkowski from applying excessive force on suspect Neal Mack during a chokehold in 2006. The Buffalo Police Department (BPD) proceeded to fire Horne after a hearing before an arbitrator in 2008. Horne received justice on Tuesday; State Supreme Court Judge Dennis Ward annulled her removal and confirmed entitlement to her pension. She will receive benefits and backpay through August 4, 2010.

What We Know:

  • Horne and Kwiatkowski traveled to a domestic situation in 2006. Mack’s ex-girlfriend was accusing him of stealing her $626 Social Security check. He became violent with officers as they arrested him; the police pepper-sprayed the house. Horne testified she was one of the police that pushed Mack out. She also recalled that other officers began struggling with Mack. Kwiatkowski put Mack into a chokehold. Kwiatkowski kept him there for a while, even as Mack said he could not breathe. Horne took physical measures to make sure Mack survived, such as jumping on Kwiatkowski’s back. After the incident, officials asked Horne to take a four-day suspension. Horne insisted she had a hearing, even if it meant she could possibly be fired.
  • In May 2008, she was found guilty on 11 of the 13 internal charges raised against her at the arbitrator hearing. The hearing officer claimed Horne created a substantial danger to Mack and everyone else involved in the incident. The official also stated her use of physical force against Kwiatkowski was “unwarranted” and could have had fatal consequences.
  • At the time, she had been a police officer for 19 years. To retire under the state system and receive a full pension, she needed to spend 20 years on the force. Although removed from the department, Horne could still qualify for a partial pension from the state at 55-years-old. Regardless, Horne wanted her full benefits and spent 15 years trying to overturn her dismissal.
  • Her previous attempts failed, as the courts defended Kwiatkowski and BPD. Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark reviewed the case but agreed with the police. Additionally, State Supreme Court Justice Joseph G. Makowski supported Buffalo in a court battle over whether her hearing was legal. Horne also lost to Kwiatkowski in a 2011 defamation suit and had to pay $65,000 in damages.
  • Horne took the case back to court with new lawyers. Her legal team included Ronald Sullivan and Intisar Rabb of Harvard Law School. Previously, Sullivan and his team represented Michael Brown’s family. The firm Kirkland & Ellis also defended her.
  • Ward said recent events determined his decision. He wrote an 11-page ruling in which he mentions the cases of George Floyd and Eric Garner. He states that in most of these situations, the other officers at the scene fail to intervene and save someone from unreasonable physical force. Furthermore, he went on to say police who interrupt in these circumstances are heroes.

“While the Eric Garners and the George Floyds of the world never had a chance for a “do-over,” at least here the correction can be done,” Ward declared.

  • Horne told CNN she is “getting there” in feeling vindicated. She will maintain pushing for accountability in police departments. “If everyone is not vindicated then I’m not vindicated,” she affirmed.

Buffalo recently enacted a law drafted by Horne and attorneys. Cariol’s Law will require officers to step in when they see their colleague using unnecessary force on a suspect. This overturn brings the hope that more law enforcement agents will step up and stop violent acts like this.

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Crystal Mason, Texas Woman Sentenced to Five Years for Trying to Vote Gets New Appeal

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Crystal Mason is currently serving a five-year sentence for illegally voting. She claims she did not know she was unable to vote in the 2016 election. Mason is overjoyed because she has the chance to fight for her innocence, attorney Allison Grinter said in light of the appeal.

What We Know:

  • The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will review Mason’s illegal voting conviction. She is currently facing a five-year sentence after casting a provisional ballot while she was on supervised release for tax fraud. Mason discovered her name was not on the voter roll. A poll worker advised her to take the other option and submit her vote. However, local officials deemed her ineligible to vote when she was sentenced in 2011, so her poll was not accepted.
  • Tarrant County prosecutors have charged her with knowingly and unlawfully voting. Mason has affirmed throughout the case she did not know about the Texas law and wouldn’t have willingly risked her freedom.
  • The state’s ballot asks voters to confirm if they have completed any felony sentences and supervisions. Mason signed the affidavit with this certification, according to a trial court judge. Therefore, she is guilty of committing the second-degree state felony. She denies reading those words, claiming she did not look at that side of the paper.
  • Last year, a Fort Worth appeals court upheld the charge. They claimed that the fact she was unaware she could not vote was irrelevant to the prosecution.
  • Mason’s case garnered national attention in 2018. People support Mason because they feel the sentence is severe, especially if she was unconscious of the law. Many see her arrest as an effort to suppress Black votes. They feel she is a victim of the GOP’s “war on voter fraud,” which NBC News states only rarely happens in elections.

Mason’s representation includes members of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Texas Civil Rights Project. Grinter says the team will also argue that Mason is not guilty because her provisional ballot went uncounted.

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Library of Congress Updates Tulsa Race Massacre Heading

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A team at the University of Oklahoma began the initiative to change the heading beginning in 2019 in a move they say is important for historical framing.

What We Know:

  • The Library of Congress will change the heading of the Tulsa Race incident from “Riot” to “Massacre.” The distinction between the two words is crucial to understanding what actually took place.
  • The Massacre took place in the Black Greenwood District of Tulsa between May 31-June 1st, 1921. The violence began when a Black teen fled the scene after being arrested for allegedly assaulting a white woman. A mob formed and went into the neighborhood, destroying businesses and homes while killing hundreds of people.
  • Karlos Hill, chair of the African-American Studies Department at UO, is proud of the university’s role in getting the name changed. He stated, “In making this small but significant shift, the Library of Congress is helping to bring forward a more historically accurate perspective of what actually occurred.”
  • In order to get the name changed, the team had to prove “massacre” was the correct term and the one more commonly used currently. The team cited google searches and other sources, some within the Library of Congress itself.
  • Oklahoma House Rep. Monroe Nichols said the change was necessary for people in the state and nation at large to learn about Tulsa, stating that “words matter” when it comes to topics of racism.  Oklahoma Rep. Forrest Bennett also praised the change on Twitter but added: “there is more to do.”

The centennial anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre will arrive later this year. With the name formally changed in the Library, more people will be able to gain a greater understanding of the tragic events of that night.

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