“January 26, 2020, was and always will be the worst day of Vanessa Bryant’s life,” said Luis Li, the lawyer for Kobe Bryant’s widow, on Wednesday (Aug. 10), the first day of the trial stemming from Vanessa’s invasion of privacy lawsuit against Los Angeles County. Vanessa, 40, quietly sobbed as Li described how the county’s sheriff and fire department took and shared photos of a dead Kobe and Gianna Bryant at the scene of their fatal helicopter crash. “County employees exploited the accident,” said Li, according to Rolling Stone. “They took and shared pictures of Kobe and Gianna as souvenirs. …They poured salt in an unhealable wound.”
Li alleged that first responders “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.” Bryant’s lawyer also stated that a whistleblower working at the Baja California Bar & Grill in Norwalk was disturbed by Deputy Joey Cruz’s actions that day that he filed a formal complaint with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office. The complaint claimed the deputy was “showing pictures of [Kobe’s] decapitated body.”
As part of Li’s opening statement, he showed jurors a video of Deputy Cruz seated at the bar and holding up his cell phone to a bartender. The bartender reportedly visibly recoiled after seeing what was on the cell phone before walking away. This case is about accountability. We’re going to prove to you that county employees took pictures and shared them widely,” said Li. “Every single day since the county did what it did, Mrs. Bryant … [has] the risk, have the fear, have the anxiety, have the terror that they might have to re-live the loss of their family members in the most excruciating way.”
Vanessa Bryant sued the county eight months after the accident, claiming she suffered emotional distress at the thought of strangers “gawking” at grisly images of her late husband and their dead 13-year-old-daughter. “The gratuitous images soon became talked about within the department, as deputies displayed them to colleagues in settings that had nothing to do with investigating the accident,” she alleged in her court documents, per Rolling Stone. “One deputy even used his photos of the victims to try to impress a woman at a bar, bragging about how he had been at the crash site.”
U.S. District Judge John Walter consolidated Vanessa’s lawsuit with a similar one filed by Chris Chester, who lost his wife, Sarah, and their 13-year-old daughter, Payton, in the crash that killed nine people.
Attorneys for LA Country argued that Deputy Cruz was new on the job when the crash happened and that he regrets his actions. The lawyers also argued that Bryant’s privacy wasn’t violated because the photos weren’t leaked.
“The county continues to express its deepest sympathies for the families that suffered this terrible loss,” County lawyer Mira Hashmall said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “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.”