Vanessa Bryant Breaks Down in Tears During Kobe Bryant Helicopter Crash Photos Trial

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Vanessa Bryant appeared in court on Wednesday as the trial began for her lawsuit against Los Angeles County regarding graphic photos taken and allegedly shared from the helicopter crash site that killed Kobe Bryant and the couple's 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant

In May 2020, Vanessa filed a claim against the L.A. County Sheriff's Department for allegedly sharing photos of the Jan. 26 crash scene in Calabasas, California, that left nine people dead, including Kobe and Gianna. The following September, she filed a lawsuit which seeks unspecified damages, including punitive damages, for negligence, invasion of privacy as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress. The lawsuit alleges that eight sheriff's deputies took cell phone photos of the bodies of her late husband and late daughter for their personal use.

In his opening remarks on Wednesday, Vanessa's lawyer, Luis Li, accused Deputy Joey Cruz of showing gruesome images of Kobe that were on his phone at a local bar, according to the Associated Press. He then showed footage of Deputy Cruz seated at a bar and holding his cell phone up to a bartender to show him something on the screen. The bartender, visibly disgusted, then walks away. 

"Jan. 26, 2020, was and always will be the worst day of Vanessa Bryant’s life," Li told the 10-member jury, selected earlier that day. "County employees exploited the accident. They took and shared pictures of Kobe and Gianna as souvenirs. …They poured salt in an unhealable wound."

Li said that first responders, including fire officials, "walked around the wreckage and took pictures of broken bodies from the helicopter crash. They took close-ups of limbs, of burnt flesh. It shocks the conscience." He also played audio of one detective saying that his wife did not want to view the photos after he described the bodies as "piles of meat."

Li said that the photos were taken as "visual gossip" and had no official purpose, viewed only "for a laugh."

"They were shared by deputies playing video games," Li said. "They were shared repeatedly with people who had absolutely no reason to receive them."

According to the outlet, Vanessa, 40, quietly sobbed during Li's remarks. 

In her September 2020 filing, Vanessa said that she found out about the photos through a Los Angeles Times report in February and privately reached out to the Sheriff's Department to ask about the scope of the misconduct and if she should "brace for pictures of her loved ones' remains to surface on the internet." The documents stated that she was later sent a letter saying the department was "unable to assist" with her questions.

"The Sheriff's Department's outrageous actions have caused Mrs. Bryant severe emotional distress and compounded the trauma of losing Kobe and Gianna," the documents read. "Ms. Bryant feels ill at the thought of strangers gawking at images of her deceased husband and child, and she lives in fear that she or her children will one day confront horrific images of their loved ones online."

On Wednesday, County lawyers argued the case has no legal merit because images were never leaked to the public. "It is undisputed that the complained-of photos have never been in the media, on the Internet, or otherwise publicly disseminated. Plaintiff Vanessa Bryant has never seen county photos of her family members," the lawyers said.

County lawyer Mira Hashmall said in her own opening statement on Wednesday that Deputy Cruz was new on the job at the time of the crash and deeply regrets his actions. She said that he showed photos to the bartender, a personal friend, "in a lapse, in a moment of weakness," as he struggled emotionally with the difficulty of dealing with the crash scene.

She insisted that the county did not violate the Bryant family’s constitutional rights by publicly spreading unauthorized photos.

"They’re not online. They’re not in the media. They’ve never even been seen by the plaintiffs themselves,” Hashmall said. She added, "That is not an accident. That is a function of how diligent [the department leaders] were."

The trial is expected to go on for 10 days. 


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