Trial to begin over Kobe Bryant helicopter crash photos

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Wednesday, August 10, 2022
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LOS ANGELES -- An invasion of privacy trial against the Los Angeles County sheriff's and fire departments begins Wednesday in a U.S. District Court just over a mile from where Kobe Bryant played for the Lakers.

Bryant's widow, Vanessa, claims deputies did not take the photos for investigative purposes and shared them with firefighters who responded to the Jan. 26, 2020, crash scene. The lawsuit said a deputy showed the photos to bar patrons and that a firefighter showed them to off-duty colleagues.

Vanessa Bryant is seeking unspecified millions in compensation.

"Mrs. Bryant feels ill at the thought that sheriff's deputies, firefighters, and members of the public have gawked at gratuitous images of her deceased husband and child," the lawsuit says. "She lives in fear that she or her children will one day confront horrific images of their loved ones online."

Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and five other parents and players were flying to a girls' basketball tournament when their chartered helicopter crashed in the Calabasas Hills west of Los Angeles in fog. Federal safety officials blamed pilot error for the wreck.

Vanessa Bryant has also sued the helicopter charter company and the deceased pilot's estate.

The county has argued that Bryant has suffered emotional distress from the deaths, not the photos, which were ordered deleted by Sheriff Alex Villanueva. It said the photos have never been in the media, on the internet or otherwise publicly disseminated and that the lawsuit is speculative about harm she may suffer.

A law prompted by the crash makes it a crime for first responders to take unauthorized photos of deceased people at the scene of an accident or crime.

The county already agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle a similar case brought by two families whose relatives died in the crash. Vanessa Bryant did not settle her case, indicating she is seeking more.

The litigation has at times been ugly.

When the county sought a psychiatric evaluation of Bryant to determine whether she suffered emotional distress because of the photos, her lawyers criticized the "scorched-earth discovery tactics" to bully her and other family members of victims to abandon their lawsuits.

The county responded by saying it was sympathetic to Bryant's losses but dismissed her case as a "money grab."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.