Vanessa Bryant’s attorney accused Los Angeles County officials of exploiting Kobe Bryant’s death and sharing photos of the scene of his helicopter crash “for laughs” in opening arguments in a civil trial that began Wednesday.
Bryant is suing the county for invasion of privacy, arguing that Los Angeles County deputies and firefighters took and shared gruesome photos of the scene of the 2020 crash that claimed the lives of her husband and Los Angeles Lakers icon Kobe Bryanttheir 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others.
By the Associated Press, Bryant’s attorney Luis Li argued in his opening statement that the photos were taken on cell phones and shared in unprofessional personal settings, which he described as “visual gossip.” Bryant wiped away tears as he made his case.
“January 26, 2020 was the worst day of Vanessa Bryant’s life,” Li said in a room of the United States District Court of Los Angeles. “The district made it much worse. They poured salt in an open wound and rubbed it in… .
“They were shared by deputies playing video games. They were shared multiple times with people who had absolutely no reason to receive them.”
Mira Hashmall, the county’s attorney, argued that the photos were a necessary tool for first responders on the scene.
“Location photography is essential,” said Hashmall.
They each made their case before a jury of 10 that was selected earlier Wednesday and includes a nun, a television producer and a college student. According to CNN, potential jurors who claimed strong feelings for either Kobe or Vanessa Bryant or Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva were struck from the pool.
Villanueva acknowledged in 2020 that members of his department took and shared photos them in personal settings. He said in March of that year that he was satisfied that eight deputies who took pictures had removed them.
“That was my first priority, was to make sure those photos no longer exist,” Villanueva. told NBC4 in 2020. “We identified the deputies involved, they came to the station on their own and admitted that they took them and they removed them. And we are pleased that those involved have done so.”
According to AP, Li showed jurors bar security footage of an off-duty deputy sharing images of the scene with a bartender who shook his head in response. He then told jurors that firefighters shared pictures at a banquet two weeks later and showed them documentation that those photos were later shared with 30 people.
Bryant described the trauma that the existence of the photos caused her in pretrial legal filing in december
“These deputies and firefighters took the worst thing that ever happened to me — the worst thing that could happen to any mother or wife — and made it worse,” Bryant stated in the filing. “I will never be able to shake the anguish of knowing that the officials who are supposed to be watching over us treated Kobe and Gianna with such gross disrespect.
“For the rest of my life, one of two things will happen: either close-up photos of my husband and daughter’s bodies will go viral online, or I will continue to live in fear of that happening.”
Hashmall argued Wednesday that the photos did not appear online, a testament to the discipline of first responders to ensure their safety.
“They’re not online,” Hashmall said. “They’re not in the media. They’ve never even been seen by the accusers themselves. That’s not an accident. That’s a function of how diligent they’ve been.”
She also addressed the deputy who shared the picture with the bartender, who she described as a longtime friend of the deputy.
“He pulled out his phone, and that shouldn’t have happened,” she said. “In a lapse, in a moment of weakness, he showed those photos, and he regretted it every day of his life.”
Chris Chester, whose wife Sarah and 13-year-old daughter Payton were killed in the crash, is also a plaintiff. According to USA Today, his lawyer Jerome Jackson described a graphic image of Sarah’s body that was cut in half at the waist as one that had been split.
“That’s what they took a picture of,” Jackson said, according to USA Today. “That’s what they shared. That’s what they laughed at.”
The executive director of Lakers Rob Pelinka was the agent and close friend of Kobe and the godfather of Gianna. He took the stand Wednesday and testified that sharing the images “added a lot more sadness,” according to USA Today.
Hasmhall argued that the grief experienced by the survivors of the crash victim was about their deaths – not the photographs.
“There is no doubt that these families have suffered,” she said, according to AP. “It’s unspeakable. But this case is not about the loss of the crash. It’s about the pictures.”