Lawsuit Begins Over Kobe Bryant Crash Site Photos

Angel Yuan
By Angel Yuan
August 12, 2022Sports News

Graphic photos of the catastrophic helicopter crash that claimed the lives of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven other people were shared among Los Angeles County employees, a lawyer for the NBA player’s wife Vanessa Bryant told a jury on Aug. 10.

Just hours after the crash, Bryant met with sheriff Alex Villanueva and requested that no one take photographs of her husband and child’s remains, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Despite the sheriff’s assurances, firefighters and L.A. County sheriff’s deputies texted and AirDropped pictures of the carnage. A Norwalk bartender received photos from a phone screen shown to him. At an awards ceremony held at the Hilton Hotel in Universal City, they were shown to the firefighters.

The county is currently at the center of a federal lawsuit that began Wednesday over how far the images spread and the pain they brought to families who lost their loved ones in the wreck.

Bryant’s attorney Luis Li told jurors in his opening statement in U.S. District Court that the cell phone pictures taken at the crash scene by a deputy and a fire captain were “visual gossip” viewed “for a laugh,” 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.”

“They took pictures of broken bodies … close-ups of limbs, of burnt flesh,” the attorney said. “It shocks the conscience.”

Mira Hashmall, an attorney representing the county, defended that the photos have not been leaked online or to the media and cautioned jurors to separate the tragedy of the crash from the facts of the case about the photos.

“The families suffered unspeakable loss … but that is about the helicopter crash,” said Hashmall. “This case is about the first responders and what they did.”

Kobe Bryant crash scene
Wreckage of the crashed helicopter that was carrying former NBA star Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna smolders on the ground in Calabasas, Calif., on Jan. 26, 2020. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The defense acknowledged that the photographs shouldn’t have spread as they did, but insisted that the county’s quick response successfully contained it.

“Those pictures are nowhere,” Hashmall said, adding that they were never published online, in the media, or seen by the families.

“We’re being sued over pictures that aren’t online, aren’t in the media, and have never been seen by the plaintiff,” Hashmall said.

Lawyers for Los Angeles County also justified the taking of the photos, saying that it was an essential tool for first responders seeking to share information at the chaotic, hazardous, and difficult-to-reach crash scene in the Calabasas hills west of Los Angeles while they still had hope of saving lives.

“Site photography is essential,” county lawyer J. Mira Hashmall said.

Bryant’s attorney Li said before the jury that learning a month after the crash about the photos’ circulation not from the county but from the Los Angeles Times compounded her still-raw suffering.

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

“She will be haunted by what they did forever,” Li told the jury.

When their chartered helicopter crashed in the fog, Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, along with other parents and players, were traveling to a girl’s basketball tournament. Federal safety experts attributed the accident to pilot error.

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