An institutional “culture of cruelty” has led Los Angeles County deputies and firefighters to shoot and share photos of the remains of Kobe Bryant and other 2020 victims. helicopter crash that killed the Lakers starhis 13-year-old daughter and seven others, a lawyer for Bryant’s widow told a jury on Wednesday.
Vanessa Bryant’s attorney Luis Li told jurors in his opening statement in her invasion of privacy lawsuit against the county that the cell phone photos taken at the crash site by a deputy and fire chief were “visual gossip” viewed “for laughs” and had not. official purpose
“They were shared by deputies playing video games,” Li said. “They were repeatedly shared with people who had no reason to receive them at all.”
A county attorney defended the taking of the photos as a vital tool for first responders looking to share information when they thought they could still save lives at the chaotic, dangerous and hard-to-reach crash scene in the Calabasas hills west of. The Angels.
“Scene photography is essential,” said Los Angeles County District Attorney J Mira Hashmall.
Vanessa Bryant cried often during the presentation of her lawyer. She was still wiping tears from her eyes minutes later during a break.
He told jurors that learning a month after the crash about the circulation of the photos not from the county but the Los Angeles Times added to her still raw ordeal.
“January 26, 2020 was the worst day of Vanessa Bryant’s life. The county made it much worse,” He said. “They poured salt into an open wound and rubbed it.”
Li played jury safety video of an off-duty sheriff’s deputy drinking in a bar showing the photos to the bartender, who shakes his head in dismay. The lawyer then showed a picture of the men laughing together afterwards. He described firefighters looking at the phone photos two weeks later at an awards banquet and showed the jury an animated chart documenting their spread to nearly 30 people.
He said the county did not conduct a thorough investigation to ensure every copy of the photos was accounted for and that because of the fear that the photos would ever surface — and her surviving children might see them online — Vanessa Bryant “will be haunted by what. they did forever.”
During the defense’s opening statement, Hashmall told jurors that the footage, which had not surfaced in more than two years, showed that leaders in the sheriff’s and fire departments were doing their jobs.
“They are not online. They are not in the media. They were never even seen by the plaintiffs themselves,” said Hashmall.
“That’s not an accident. That’s a function of how diligent they were.”
Sheriff Alex Villanueva and department officials immediately brought everyone involved in and ordered them to remove the photos, rather than conduct a lengthy official investigation that could harm the families further, she said.
“He chose what he saw as the only option: decisive action,” Hashmall said. “He felt every second mattered.”
Hashmall told the jury that the reason he even had the bartender’s video to show, which she suggested was deceptively edited to show the men laughing together, was because the Sheriff’s Department received it the same day they received a complaint from another bar patron who witnessed the photo sharing.
She said the deputy was struggling emotionally because of the difficulty of dealing with the crash scene and that the bartender was a longtime friend he confided in.
“He pulled out his phone, and that shouldn’t have happened,” she said. “In a mistake, in a moment of weakness, he showed those photos, and he regretted it every day of his life.”
The defense attorney urged jurors to look past the grief of those who brought the lawsuit and focus on the issue before them.
“There is no doubt that these families have suffered,” she said. “It is unspeakable. But this case is not about the loss of the crash. It’s about the images.”
Chris Chester, whose wife, Sarah, and daughter, Payton, were also killed in the crash, is another plaintiff in the lawsuit, which is seeking unspecified millions.
The county has already agreed to pay $2.5m to settle a similar case brought by two families whose relatives died in the crash. Bryant and Chester declined to settle.
Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and other parents and players were flying to a girls basketball tournament when their chartered helicopter crashed in the fog. Federal safety officials blamed pilot error for the wreck.