“I broke down and cried,” Bryant said of the day in February 2020 when she first learned of the spread of the gruesome photos taken a month earlier and later shared by a deputy with a buddy at a bar, and by a firefighter at one. party, among other occasions. “I just felt like running down the block and screaming.”
Bryant’s testimony, in a federal courtroom a few miles from the downtown arena where her late husband led the Lakers to five championships, marked the emotional climax of a legal saga that has escalated since shortly after the January 2020 crash. The case has raised questions about how the alleged misconduct was handled by top officials for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Fire Department.
Bryant, often testifying through tears, said she lives in fear that photos of her loved ones’ remains will appear on social media, and blamed authorities for circulating images she said should never have been taken in the first place. .
“They violated her,” Bryant said of her daughter Gianna, 13, “taking advantage of the fact that her dad couldn’t protect her because he was at the morgue.”
Bryant’s co-plaintiff in the civil rights lawsuit, Chris Chester, previously testified that learning about the dissemination of the photos caused “sadness beyond sadness.” He rejected the idea, advanced by county attorneys, that first responders took and shared photos for legitimate reasons.
“It never crossed my mind, in the wildest imagination, that someone with a personal cell phone with a Los Angeles Dodgers sticker on that back” would take photos at the crude accident scene above Calabasas, Calif., and share them with others, Chester said. .
But Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who also testified Friday, said a deputy who took cell phone photos — some of which were close-ups of body parts — and then shared them with others was careful to record the scene before it was stepped on by firefighters or bystanders. . .
Attorneys for Bryant and Chester challenged Villanueva with recordings of previous media interviews in which the sheriff stated that there was no legitimate reason for his deputies to have taken cell phone photos at the scene and referred to “death books” in which police collect images as illegal souvenirs of. their career.
“I’m telling the truth as I know it at the time,” said Villanueva, who currently faces a challenger in a runoff election. He defended his handling of the scandal, which included giving “amnesty” to some MPs who deleted the photos from their phones – instead of trying to keep them as a sign of misconduct.
Villanueva said his main goal was to make sure the photos didn’t spread further. “You can’t have the responsibility and risk the photos getting out,” Villanueva said. “You have to choose one of the two. And we made the right choice.”
The trial, which will enter its third week Monday, had some bruising moments for county officials.
A retired firefighter, a sheriff’s deputy testified, took cell phone photos at the scene, claimed he no longer remembers being there – contradicting previous deposition testimony – and had to take several breaks from testifying to collect himself. Top sheriff’s official apologized on the stand for apparent lies he said regarding whether a complaint had been filed about a deputy sharing photos of the scene. And forensic analysis found missing phones and other hardware that would shed light on the spread of the photos, including a fire official’s laptop that was missing a hard drive.
Such embarrassing revelations are often prevented from being aired in court through a financial settlement. But in this case, with Vanessa Bryant worth hundreds of millions, no such compromise was reached.
Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said the wealth and determination of one of the plaintiffs made a unique dilemma for the county. “If this case wasn’t about Kobe Bryant, and if the plaintiff didn’t have the resources to take this to trial, I doubt it would ever have gotten this far,” Levenson said. “For the Bryant family, they want accountability, and they have the means to get it.”
Bryant, 40, described her determination growing when she received the clothes Kobe and Gianna were wearing at the time of the accident. By the condition of the clothes, she said, “you could tell they were in pain” — which made her angrier because she believed first responders were treating photos of their remains as news.
“I want justice for my husband and my daughter,” Bryant said.
Both Bryant and Chester, whose wife and daughter were killed in the crash, said they had no faith in county assurances that any cellphone photos taken at the scene never surfaced.
“I believe they were all deleted,” Villanueva testified Friday — his evidence was that the photos, to his knowledge, had not yet been shared online.
But Villanueva, who said in previous testimony that he believed the photos had spread to 28 phones, also appeared to learn for the first time Friday that one of his deputies admitted to Airdropping dozens of such photos to a fire chief who was never there. identified
The sheriff’s confidence that all the photos had been destroyed became that he was “pretty sure” they were gone. When challenged further by Chester’s attorney as to how he could have known this, Villanueva continued to hedge.
“God knows,” the sheriff concluded. “And that’s about it.”