Vanessa Bryant sobbed quietly in a federal courtroom on Wednesday as her attorney for jurors described the graphic nature of a photo a sheriff’s deputy allegedly shared with random people in a bar two days after her NBA superstar husband Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna , were killed in a helicopter crash along with seven others in January 2020.
The attorney, Luis Li, said a whistleblower who was at the Baja California Bar & Grill in Norwalk that day was so disturbed by the actions of Deputy Joey Cruz that he filed a formal complaint with the Los Angeles County Sheriff, saying he claimed that the deputy took photos of [Kobe’s] decapitated body.”
In his dramatic opening statement, Li showed the judges a video of Deputy Cruz sitting at the bar and holding his cell phone to a bartender to show him something. The bartender visibly recoils at what he sees and walks away.
“January 26, 2020 was and will always be the worst day of Vanessa Bryant’s life,” Li told the 10-member jury selected earlier Wednesday to hear the anticipated 10-day trial for the grieving widow’s privacy breach lawsuit against Los Angeles District. “The municipal employees took advantage of the accident. They took and shared photos of Kobe and Gianna as souvenirs. … She poured salt into an incurable wound.”
Li said first responders, including firefighters, “walked around the wreckage and took pictures of broken bodies from the helicopter crash. They took close-ups of limbs, of burnt flesh. It shocks the conscience.” He played audio from a detective who admitted his own wife refused to look at the photos after describing them as “piles of flesh.”
Vanessa Bryant filed her lawsuit eight months after the horrific January 26, 2020 crash, saying she was under severe emotional distress and became physically “ill” at the thought of strangers “yawning” at horrific images of her husband and 13-year-olds. year old daughter. She claims the photos were taken by first responders “for their own personal satisfaction”.
“The free images were soon discussed within the department, because deputies showed them to colleagues in institutions that had nothing to do with the investigation into the accident. A sheriff’s deputy even used his photos of the victims to impress a woman in a bar, while bragging about how he had been at the scene of the accident,” her files read.
She further alleges that a Los Angeles County fire department officer received photos of the crash scene from colleagues that he later shared with off-duty firefighters and their wives and girlfriends during an awards ceremony at a Hilton hotel in February 2020.
County attorneys argue that the case has no legal value because no photos were ever leaked to the public. “There is no question that the accused photos were never publicly distributed in the media, on the Internet or in any other way. Plaintiff Vanessa Bryant has never seen county photos of her relatives,” the lawyers argued.
County attorney Mira Hashmall said in her dueling opening statement that Deputy Cruz was new on the job when the deadly crash happened and deeply regrets his actions. She was adamant that the county did not violate the Bryant family’s constitutional rights by publicly distributing unauthorized photos.
“The province continues to extend its deepest condolences to the families who have suffered this terrible loss. The county also worked tirelessly for two and a half years to ensure that the photos on the crash site were never publicly distributed. The evidence shows they never were. And that’s a fact, not speculation,” Hashmall, a partner at the law firm Miller Baronness, said in a statement shared with rolling stone.
U.S. District Judge John Walter consolidated Bryant’s lawsuit with a similar one filed by Orange County financial adviser Chris Chester, who lost his wife Sarah, and the couple’s 13-year-old daughter, Payton, in the crash.
“This case is about liability. We’re going to prove to you that county officials took photos and shared them widely,” Li told judges on Wednesday. He claimed that the images were shared with so many people in so many ways that it is impossible to guarantee that there will be no leakage in the future.
“Every day since the county did what it did, Ms. Bryant and Mr. Chester have risked, have feared, have fear, fear that they might lose their relatives in the most excruciating way,” Li said.
Kobe Bryant, 41, was traveling with his daughter and six others to a youth basketball tournament when his chartered helicopter crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, California, amid thick fog, killing everyone on board, including the pilot.