Vanessa Bryant appeared in court on Wednesday as the trial began for her lawsuit against Los Angeles County, regarding graphic photos allegedly taken and shared from the helicopter crash site that killed Kobe Bryant and the couple’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant.
In May of 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 a report from Rolling Stone. 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.
“January 26, 2020, was and always will be the worst day of Vanessa Bryant’s life,” Li reportedly 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 reportedly 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.”
The report states that 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, according to Rolling Stone‘s report, 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 argued.
County lawyer Mira Hashmall reportedly 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 insisted that the county did not violate the Bryant family’s constitutional rights by publicly spreading unauthorized photos.
“The county continues to express its deepest sympathies for the families that suffered this terrible loss. The county has also worked tirelessly for two and half years to make sure its site photos of the crash were never publicly disseminated. The evidence shows they never were. And that is fact, not speculation,” Hashmall shared in a statement to Rolling Stone.
The trial is reportedly expected to go on for 10 days.
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