Kobe Bryant crash photos were shared by deputies as ‘gossip,’ court hears | Kobe Bryant

An institutional “culture of toughness” prompted Los Angeles County deputies and firefighters to shoot and share photos of the remains of Kobe Bryant and other victims of the 2020 helicopter crash that killed the Lakers star, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others, a lawyer for Bryant’s widow told a jury Wednesday.

Vanessa Bryant’s attorney, Luis Li, told jurors in his opening statement in his invasion of privacy lawsuit against the county that the cellphone photos shot at the scene of the crash by a deputy and a fire captain were “visual gossip” that was seen “for fun” and had no official purpose.

“They were shared by deputies playing video games,” Li said. “They were shared repeatedly with people who had absolutely no reason to receive them.”

An attorney for the county defended the capture of the images as an important tool for first responders seeking to share information when they believed they could still save lives at the chaotic, dangerous and hard-to-access crash scene in the Calabasas Hills west of Los Angeles .

“Site photography is essential,” said Los Angeles County Attorney J Mira Hashmall.

Vanessa Bryant often cried during her lawyer’s presentation. She was still wiping tears from her eyes minutes later during a break.

Li told jurors that learning a month after the crash about the photos’ circulation not from the county but the Los Angeles Times exacerbated her still-untouchable suffering.

“January 26, 2020 was the worst day of Vanessa Bryant’s life. The county made it much worse,” Li said. “They poured salt into an open wound and rubbed it in.”

Li played jurors security video of an off-duty sheriff’s deputy drinking at a bar and shows the footage to the bartender, who shakes his head in horror. The lawyer then showed a photo of the men laughing together later. Li described firefighters looking at the phone images two weeks later at an awards banquet and showed the jury an animated diagram documenting their spread to nearly 30 people.

Li said the county failed to conduct a thorough investigation to ensure every copy of the photos was accounted for, and that out of fear that the photos will one day surface — and her surviving children may view them online — Vanessa Bryant “will be haunted by what they did forever.”

During the defense’s opening statement, Hashmall told jurors that the photos, which have not surfaced for more than two years, showed that sheriff’s and fire department leaders were doing their jobs.

“They’re not online. They’re not in the media. They’ve never even been seen by the plaintiffs themselves,” Hashmall said.

“It’s not an accident. It’s a function of how diligent they were.”

Sheriff Alex Villanueva and department officials immediately brought in everyone involved and ordered them to delete the photos rather than conduct a lengthy official investigation that could further harm the families, 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 Li herself had the video of the bartender to exhibit, which she suggested was deceptively edited to show the men laughing together, was because the Sheriff’s Department had received the same day they received a complaint from another bar patron. who attended 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 in whom he confided.

“He pulled out his phone and it shouldn’t have happened,” she said. “At some point, in a moment of weakness, he showed those pictures and he has regretted it every day of his life.”

The defense attorney urged jurors to look past the grief of the plaintiffs and focus on the case for them.

“There’s no doubt these families have suffered,” she said. “It’s indescribable. But this case is not about the loss from the crash. It’s about the pictures.”

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 $2.5 million to settle a similar lawsuit brought by two families whose relatives died in the crash. Bryant and Chester refused 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 fog. Federal safety officials blamed pilot error for the wreck.

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