On the witness stand in her federal lawsuit against Los Angeles County, Vanessa Bryant recalled being at home with her family, nursing her 7-month-old daughter Capri, when she learned of a Los Angeles Times report about county sheriff’s deputies sharing the graphic photos. .
“I just remember not wanting to react because the girls were in the room,” she testified, her voice rising with emotion. “I said, ‘I can’t do this.’ … And I ran 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 help what I feel.”
Bryant admitted to being nervous on the stand and cried while talking about her late daughter Gianna. She had to pull herself together as she described the day it took to find Gianna’s body in the wreckage. She sobbed as she recalled looking at a secure NTSB website to identify the victims’ clothing and other personal items.
Bryant recounted her interaction after the crash with Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who informed her that her husband and daughter had been killed. She broke down sometimes remembering the events.
“Excuse me Mrs. Bryant. Is there anything I can do for you?” Bryant recalled Villanueva asking.
“If you can’t bring my babies back, then please secure the area. I’m worried about paparazzi,” she recalled telling him.
The sheriff assured her he would, but he stayed in the room, Bryant said. She urged him to leave and attend to his request immediately.
According to Bryant, Villanueva left and returned, telling her that he had secured a temporary flight restriction over the area through the Federal Aviation Administration.
Bryant testified that she had to delete comments from her Instagram feed after the images were distributed. Her attorney Luis Li pointed to a comment sent to her shortly after the LA Times story was published.
“I will drain Kobe’s body,” said the message, which included a helicopter and fire emojis.
Defense attorneys, in court filings, indicated they plan to address Bryant’s own Instagram posts, including one from Halloween in which she is dressed as Cruella de Vil, a villain featured in Disney movies.
“They say there are five stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Well, I’d like to add one more…revenge. — Cruella,” the caption reads.
Leo asked Bryant about the post. She testified that the choice of costume was consistent with other Halloween costumes she has worn, including the Wicked Witch of “The Wizard of Oz” and Darth Vader.
Bryant said she dresses up as the bad characters to allow her girls to be the good ones.
A sheriff testifies that he came up with a “bargain” to ensure photos were removed
During cross-examination, the defense sought to show that Bryant had other sources of stress beyond the photo controversy, including a lawsuit filed against her by her mother. Bryant testified that her mother “thought she was entitled to money.”
Defense attorney Mira Hashmall told Bryant that her mother “accused you of fraud … elder abuse, that must have been stressful.”
“It was definitely painful,” Bryant said, adding that she also felt betrayed.
“I’m sure that was stressful,” Hashmall asked.
“Yeah, it wasn’t easy,” Bryant replied, adding that the trial was settled and it didn’t cause the kind of lingering fear she has from the crash scene photos surfacing.
“That was stressful at the time, but my mother gave birth to me. She raised me. And like I said, it was resolved,” Bryant said of the lawsuit.
The defense pressed Bryant on whether her goal was for the photos to never be seen — which the LA County claims its actions accomplished.
“I wish someone would get all the photos back and investigate” who shared what, Bryant said.
The first witness for the defense, Sheriff Villanueva, testified about the need for expediency in handling the leaked photos. He said opening a formal investigation would invoke union legal rules that could involve lawyers and delays and allow more opportunity to disseminate the photos.
“There’s one way we’re going to get them,” Villanueva said, referring to the crash scene, so he came up with what he called a “bargain.”
The deputies involved in the leak would prove the photos were deleted and receive a note about their behavior in an action plan, Villanueva testified.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs sought to show that the handling of the episode limited internal affairs from later conducting an investigation into an alleged offense.
“You can’t have the responsibility and (also) risk the photos getting out,” Villanueva testified. “And we chose the right one.”
Bryant earlier testified that she lives in fear because a formal investigation could not confirm that all crash scene photos had been accounted for and destroyed.
The officials described how they shared photos
Chester, who along with Bryant filed the lawsuit, testified Thursday, saying he lives in fear that the graphic photos taken of the bodies of his loved ones may one day resurface.
Chester took the stand after several days of testimony from the police — some of whom offered apologies, detailed the graphic nature of the photos, and explained why they were taken and shared and why orders were given to remove them.
Bryant was in the courtroom listening to the testimony of every witness except the coroner. She abruptly left the courtroom while a bartender was testifying about seeing photos.
Villanueva is expected to be followed on the stand by LA County Fire Chief Anthony Marrone.
Kobe Bryant, 41, and Gianna Bryant, 13, were among nine people killed in the January 26, 2020 helicopter crash on a hillside in Calabasas, California.
They were flying to a girls basketball game at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks when the helicopter went down, leaving no survivors.
CNN’s Ray Sanchez contributed to this report.