Vanessa Bryant has taken the stand in the trial for her lawsuit against Los Angeles County regarding graphic photos taken and shared by officers from the helicopter crash site that killed Kobe Bryant and the couple’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant.
Vanessa took the witness stand on Friday and emotionally recalled the moment she found out the graphic photos from the crash scene — including photos of Kobe and Gianna — had been leaked. She said she was at home breastfeeding her then 7-month-old daughter, Capri, when she was alerted to a Los Angeles Times report about sheriff’s deputies sharing the photos.
“I just remember not wanting to react cause the girls were in the room,” Vanessa said (via CNN). “I said, ‘I can’t do this.’ … And I bolted out of the house and I ran to the side of the house so the girls couldn’t see me. I wanted to run… down the block and just scream. I can’t escape my body. I can’t escape what I feel.”
Vanessa also shared that, to this day, she experiences panic attacks and anxiety over the possibility of seeing the photos from the devastating 2020 helicopter crash.
In one of the more disturbing details she shared, Vanessa said she had to remove comments from her Instagram feed after the L.A. Times story was published. According to her attorney who shared a screen shot, one of the comments read, “Ima leak Kobe’s body.” The comment was accompanied by helicopter and fire emojis.
“I want to remember my husband and my daughter the way they were,” Vanessa said (via The Washington Post) as she testified through tears. “I don’t ever want to see these photographs shared or viewed.”
Also during her testimony, Vanessa recounted her interaction with Sheriff Alex Villanueva after he informed her of the tragic accident.
“I’m sorry Mrs. Bryant. Is there anything I can do for you?” Vanessa recalled the sheriff asking. She responded, “If you can’t bring my babies back, then please secure the area. I’m concerned about paparazzi.”
Vanessa claimed Villanueva assured her he would honour her request but that he never actually got up to do it. She then said she urged him to handle the request immediately. Vanessa testified that Villanueva finally did step out of the room and returned to inform her that he secured a temporary flight restriction over the area through the Federal Aviation Administration.
When reached for comment, Vanessa’s attorney, Luis Li, told ET, “Thanks for your interest. She won’t be commenting at this time.”
In May 2020, Vanessa filed a claim against the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department for sharing private photos of the Jan. 26, 2020 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 accuses eight sheriff’s deputies of taking cell phone photos of the bodies of her late husband and late daughter for their personal use.
“Jan. 26, 2020, was and always will be the worst day of Vanessa Bryant’s life,” Vanessa’s lawyer, Luis Li, told a 10-member jury in his opening remarks last week. “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.”
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.”
In her opening remarks last week, L.A. 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,” she said, adding, “That is not an accident. That is a function of how diligent [the department leaders] were.”