‘It shocks the conscience.’ Vanessa Bryant’s lawyer says photos of Kobe’s helicopter crash were shared with dozens of LA County employees – CNN

'It shocks the conscience.'  Vanessa Bryant's lawyer says photos of Kobe's helicopter crash were shared with dozens of LA County employees - CNN

Vanessa Bryant’s federal lawsuit alleges that photos taken of the victims’ remains, including those of her daughter and husband, were shared in settings unrelated to the investigation, including at a bar and an awards party.

Her attorney, Luis Li, presented a flowchart of how initial photos spread from one deputy to more than a dozen deputies and more than a dozen members of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Some photos were shared between deputies while they were playing the video game “Call of Duty,” Li said in his opening statement.

Vanessa Bryant wiped away tears as Li described the way sheriff’s deputies captured and shared the photos.

“They took pictures of broken bodies … close-ups of limbs, of burnt flesh,” the lawyer said. “It shocks the conscience.”

Surveillance footage played in court showed one of the deputies at a bar showing a photo to a bartender, who backed away and turned away after seeing the image.

“Never in her worst nightmares did (Bryant) imagine that police and first responders would go — and they would be the ones — to take pictures of Kobe and Gianna’s remains for no reason,” Li said.

The lawyer said that county employees did not cause the accident on January 26, 2020, but accused them of exploiting it, saying, “They poured salt into an incurable wound.”

The defense emphasized that the photos were not leaked online or to the media and warned jurors to separate the tragedy of the crash from the facts of the case about the photos.

“The families have suffered an unspeakable loss … but that’s what the helicopter crash is all about,” said Mira Hashmall, an attorney representing LA County. “This case is about the first responders and what they did.”

A a jury of six women and four men was chosen for the case. They include a nun, someone who works in television production for NBC Universal, a college student, a real estate investor, a pharmaceutical researcher, a computer science professor, and a restaurant host.
Vanessa Bryant leaves a federal courthouse in Los Angeles on August 10, 2022.

2nd plaintiff in the suit

The trial is expected to last about two weeks and witnesses are likely to include Vanessa Bryant and LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva. The suit that was filed in September 2020seeks secret damages and claims for civil rights violations, negligence, emotional distress and invasion of privacy.

Wednesday’s proceedings ended with the testimony of Rob Pelinka, general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, who wept as he described being best friends with Kobe Bryant and Gianna’s godfather. On the day of the crash, Pelinka said he helped Vanessa Bryant seek assurances from the sheriff that the site would be safe from people trying to take photos of the scene.

Pelinka also shared the terror, anguish and grief he saw in Vanessa Bryant after she learned the crime scene photos were being circulated among deputies. His testimony will continue Thursday morning.

In addition to Bryant, a second plaintiff is Christopher Chester, who lost his wife Sarah and their daughter Payton in the crash. Chester’s lawyer Jerome Jackson said the photos of the scene may have captured disturbing scenes of Sarah’s remains.

“Why would someone use those same photos for ballroom talk and cocktail party talk?” Jackson said.

The victims of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant shared more than a passion for basketball

The defense contended that there were valid reasons for site photographs, as the crash was a mile up a mountainside at an elevation of 1,250 feet. Hashmall said the deputy took photos of more than just bodies.

If the deputy hadn’t documented the scene while he was being trained, Hashmall said, he wouldn’t have been able to notify the command center, which was tasked not only with search and recovery but also with fighting a wildfire sparked by the crash.

“If you don’t have a picture,” she said, “you can’t create an answer.”

The defense conceded that the photos should not have been disseminated as they did but maintained that the district’s early action effectively contained it.

“We are being sued over images that are not online, are not in the media and have never been seen by the plaintiff,” Hashmall said.

Bryant’s attorney told jurors that he will show that the county’s actions did not fully contain the spread of the photos and that they could still appear online.

After the accident, Sheriff Villanueva told CNN the department conducted an investigation and eight deputies faced administrative action over allegations they shared images of the crash scene with people outside the investigation.

The sheriff said in March 2020 that all photos of the scene that were in the possession of deputies were deleted. Months later, the lawyers of Vanessa Bryant filed a motion claiming that the actions of the department amounted to destroying evidence.

CNN’s Eric Levenson and Stella Chan contributed to this report.

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