Photos of Kobe Bryant’s crash were shared by deputies as “gossip,” the court heard

An institutional “culture of cruelty” led Los Angeles County deputies and firefighters to shoot and share photos of the remains of Kobe Bryant and other victims of the 2020 helicopter crash that killed the star Lakers, his 13-year-old daughter and seven other people. an attorney for Bryant’s widow told a jury Wednesday.

Vanessa Bryant’s attorney, Luis Li, told jurors in his opening statement in his invasion of privacy trial against the county that cellphone photos shot at the scene of the crash by a deputy and a fire captain were “visual gossip” seen “for laughs” and had no official purpose.

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

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

“Scene photography is essential,” said Los Angeles County Attorney J Mira Hashmall.

Vanessa Bryant often cried during her lawyer’s presentation. She was still wiping tears from her eyes minutes later during a break.

He told jurors that learning a month after the crash about the circulation of the photos not from the county but from the Los Angeles Times compounded his still raw suffering.

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

He played her a jury-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 a picture of the men laughing together later. He described 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.

She said the county did not conduct a thorough investigation to make sure all copies of the photos were accounted for and that because of the fear that the photos would one day come out, and that her surviving children can watch them online, Vanessa Bryant “will be haunted by what they did forever.”

During the defense’s opening statement, Hashmall told jurors that the fact that the footage did not surface for more than two years showed that sheriff’s and fire department leaders were doing their jobs.

“They’re not online. They’re not in the media. Even the plaintiffs themselves have never seen them,” Hashmall said.

“This is not an accident. This is a function of how diligent they were.”

Sheriff Alex Villanueva and department officials immediately brought everyone involved in and ordered them to delete the photos, rather than conduct a lengthy official investigation that could further harm the families, he said.

“He chose what he saw as the only option: decisive action,” Hashmall said. “He felt every second mattered.”

Hashmall told the jury that the reason Li even had the waiter’s video to show, which he suggested had been deceptively edited to show the men laughing together, was because the Sheriff’s Department had received it on the same day they received a complaint from another bar patron. who witnessed the sharing of photos.

He said the deputy was struggling emotionally from the difficulty of coping at the scene of the accident and that the waiter was a longtime friend he trusted.

“He took the phone out and this shouldn’t have happened,” he said. “In a lapse, in a moment of weakness, he showed these photos, and he has regretted it every day of his life.”

The defense attorney urged jurors to look past the pain of the plaintiffs and focus on the matter before them.

“There’s no question these families have suffered,” he said. “It’s indescribable. But this case isn’t about the loss from the accident. It’s about the pictures.”

Chris Chester, whose wife, Sarah, and daughter, Payton, also died in the crash, is another plaintiff in the suit, which is seeking unspecified millions.

The county already agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle a similar case brought by two families whose relatives died in the crash. Bryant and Chester refused to settle.

Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and other parents and players were flying to a girls’ basketball tournament when their chartered helicopter crashed in fog. Federal safety officials blamed pilot error for the crash.

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