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Vanessa Bryant’s Lawyer Says Photos of Kobe Bryant’s Body Are Being Shared ‘For Laughs’

LOS ANGELES — An institutional “culture of insensitivity” led Los Angeles County deputies and firefighters to take and share photos of the remains of Kobe Bryant and other victims of the 2020 helicopter crash who killed the Lakers star, his 13-year-old daughter, and seven others, an attorney for Bryant’s widow told a jury on Wednesday.

Vanessa Bryant’s attorney, Luis Li, told jurors in his opening statement in U.S. District Court in her privacy invasion lawsuit against the county that cellphone photos taken at the scene of the accident by a deputy and a fire captain were “visual gossip” seen “for a laugh”, and had no official purpose.

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

A county attorney defended taking photos as an essential tool for first responders seeking to share information as they believed they could still save lives at the scene of the chaotic, dangerous and hard-to-reach crash. in the Calabasas hills west of Los Angeles

“Site photography is critical,” said county attorney J. Mira Hashmall.

Vanessa Bryant has often cried during the presentation of her lawyer. She was still wiping the tears from her eyes a few minutes later during a break.

Li told jurors that learning a month after the accident that the photos were circulating not from the county but from the Los Angeles Times had made her still suffering worse.

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

Li released juror security video of an off-duty sheriff’s deputy drinking at a bar showing the photos to the bartender, who shakes his head in dismay. The lawyer then showed an image of the men laughing together later. Li described the firefighters looking at the phone photos two weeks later at an awards banquet and showed the jury an animated graphic documenting their spread to nearly 30 people.

Li said the county did not conduct a thorough investigation to ensure that every copy of the photo was accounted for, and because of fears they might surface one day, and his surviving children can see them online, Vanessa Bryant “will be haunted by what they did forever.”

During the opening statement of the defense, Hashmall told jurors that the fact that the photos had not appeared in more than two years showed that the sheriff and fire department leaders had done their job.

“They’re not online. They’re not in the media. They’ve never even been seen by the plaintiffs themselves,” Hashmall said. She added: “It’s not an accident. It depends on their diligence.”

Sheriff Alex Villanueva and department officials immediately summoned everyone involved and ordered them to remove 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 like every second counted.”

Hashmall told the jury that the reason Li even had the bartender’s video to show, which she said had been misleadingly edited to show the men laughing together, was because the sheriff’s department had received it on same day they received a complaint from another bar patron. who witnessed the sharing of photos.

She said the deputy was emotionally struggling with the difficulty of dealing with the scene of the accident 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. “In a short time, in a moment of weakness, he showed those photos, and he regretted it every day of his life.”

The defense attorney urged jurors to look past the grief of those who brought the lawsuit and to focus on the case before them.

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

Chris Chester, whose wife, Sara, and daughter Payton were also killed in the crash, is also a 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 loved ones died in the Jan. 26, 2020 crash. Bryant and Chester refused to settle.

Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and other parents and players were traveling to a women’s basketball tournament when their chartered helicopter crashed in fog. Federal safety officials blamed pilot error on the wreckage.

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