Vanessa Bryant Exits Courtroom in Tears After Questions About Crash Photos of Daughter Gianna
By Sophie Schillaci
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Vanessa Bryant was overcome with emotion during a testimony on Thursday, tearfully exiting the courtroom where her trial against Los Angeles County is currently underway. Kobe Bryant's widow is suing over graphic photos taken and allegedly shared by Sheriff's Department officials from the helicopter crash site where Kobe and the couple's 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant, were killed in January 2020.
According to multiple reports, bartender Victor Gutierrez was describing in his testimony what he had seen in photos presented to him by Deputy Joey Cruz while working at Baja California Bar & Grill in Norco, California.
Asked whether any of the images appeared to be of the late NBA great, Gutierrez said, "I don’t know. I would say it was just parts." He later added that it was impossible to identify the remains based on skin color.
"It was burned," he said. "I don’t know if that was the real color."
He was then asked if he had seen any apparent images of Gianna's body.
It was at that point, according to reports, that Vanessa cried out and stood up. Her lawyer, Luis Li, then asked the presiding judge for permission for Bryant to leave the room. "You don't have to ask my permission," he replied.
Vanessa covered her face, audibly sobbing, as she left and did not return for the remainder of Gutierrez's testimony. She also sat out for the testimony from a coroner.
She was present for testimonies from one of the first responders, as well as Kobe's best friend and Gianna's Godfather, Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, who sobbed on the stand.
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 accused Deputy 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 Gutierrez to show him something on the screen. Gutierrez, 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 Wednesday. "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 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."
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 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."