The federal trial began Wednesday in Vanessa Bryant’s civil lawsuit against Los Angeles County over gruesome photos taken by first responders at the site of the helicopter crash that killed Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, their 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others.
Vanessa sobbed in the downtown Los Angeles courtroom as her attorney, Luis Li, told the 10-person jury that sheriff’s and fire department personnel “walked around the wreckage and took pictures” of the victims’ bodies, according to Rolling Stone.
The helicopter crashed into a hillside in Calabasas on Jan. 26, 2020. Li said first responders shared the pictures of Kobe and Gianna “as souvenirs,” adding that the disturbing photos showed “broken bodies, close-ups of limbs and burnt flesh.”
“The bodies of the loved ones should have been protected. But that’s not what happened,” Li stated in his opening remarks.
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Mira Hashmall, lead outside counsel for Los Angeles County, countered that first responders documented the crash site and said there was “no evidence that the photos have gotten to the public.”
“They responded, they contained that scene, they stayed there day and night,” Hashmall said about the first responders.
Vanessa Bryant is seeking millions of dollars in damages. Her lawsuit states she suffered emotional distress after first responders circulated photos of the crash site, and alleges negligence, invasion of privacy, and a violation of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which says no state should deny any person within its jurisdiction equal protection of the law.
Last month a federal judge ruled to combine Bryant’s trial with that of Chris Chester, whose wife and teenage daughter were killed in the crash. Chester, a financial advisor from Orange County, California, made similar allegations as Bryant alleging employees from the L.A. County sheriff’s and fire departments improperly shared crash photos.
The witness list at the trial could include Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who reportedly promised Vanessa the crash site was “secure” and there was no chance that photos would ever be released of her husband’s and daughter’s remains.
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The sheriff’s department launched an investigation into the photo leaks in February 2020. The Los Angeles Times was among the first media outlets to report deputies had shared images around the department and outside. The paper also reported that a sheriff’s department trainee showed the photos to a woman in a bar a few days after the crash, prompting the bartender to file an online complaint with the sheriff’s dept.
TMZ published similar claims, saying it was told by law enforcement sources that “multiple L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies who responded to the crash scene took photos that included remains.” The website said the images were “passed around at the Lost Hills Sheriff’s substation.”