Vanessa Bryant testifies in lawsuit over Kobe Bryant crash photos

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LOS ANGELES — Vanessa Bryant, the widow of the late Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, took the stand here Friday morning, describing the panic attacks and anxiety they had suffered since learning of photos taken by and shared with authorities of the helicopter crash in 2020 that killed her husband, her daughter and seven others.

“I want to remember my husband and my daughter as they were,” Bryant said, testified through tears. “I never want to see these photos shared or viewed.”

Bryant’s testimony, in a federal courthouse a few miles from downtown where her late husband led the Lakers to five championships, marked the emotional culmination of a heartbreaking legal saga that has unfolded here since the January 2020 crash.

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Bryant and Chris Chester, whose wife and daughter were also among the victims of the crash, have used the civil rights lawsuit to demand answers from Los Angeles County sheriffs and firefighters about why they took horrifying mobile photos of the accident scene and then shared it, including at a bar and a fire brigade gala.

Bryant said she was in a playroom at her home with her two small children in late February 2020, a month after the crash, when a TV news report revealed that LA County authorities had illegally taken and shared photos of the scene.

“I expected them to be more compassionate and respectful,” said Bryant, whose testimony would continue Friday morning. “My husband and my daughter deserve dignity.”

The afternoon before Bryant took the stand, Chester testified that he felt those answers were still elusive, noting the changing rationale given by first responders taking the stand. Like Vanessa Bryant, Chester said he was haunted by the possibility that illegal crime scene photos could still surface.

County attorneys have argued that officers and firefighters had official reasons for taking photos at the scene. But court testimony from those first responders sometimes bordered on humiliation. A fire captain claimed he did not remember being on the scene and left the witness stand to gather three times. Another sheriff’s deputy apologized for showing photos of a bartender buddy. Forensic analysis revealed that cell phones and hard drives containing the illegal photos had mysteriously disappeared or been wiped clean.

Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said this is the kind of embarrassing and damaging testimony usually precluded by a settlement. But in this case, with Vanessa Bryant worth hundreds of millions of dollars, there hasn’t been one.

“If this case wasn’t about Kobe Bryant, and if the plaintiff didn’t have the means to take it to court, I doubt it would ever have come to this,” Levenson said. “For the Bryant family, they want responsibility and they have the resources to get it.”

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