Vanessa Bryant sobbed in a Los Angeles court on Wednesday as her attorney described how sheriff’s deputies and firefighters shared photos of the mutilated remains of her late husband Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna after they were killed in a helicopter crash in 2020.
The 40-year-old widow, who wore a form-fitting black suit and still had a band on her left ring finger, wept into a handkerchief when the court heard an MP even called her loved ones a “pile of meat” in one case.
“January 26, 2020 will always be the worst day of Vanessa Bryant’s life,” Bryant’s attorney Luis Li said during the opening statement to the jury. “County employees explored and took photos as souvenirs. You have poured salt into an unbearable wound.”
Bryant’s state invasion of privacy lawsuit began Wednesday in federal court, more than two years after the NBA Hall of Famer was killed along with the couple’s 13-year-old daughter and seven others in a January 2020 helicopter crash in Calabasas .
She is seeking unspecified millions in damages in her lawsuit against Los Angeles County over graphic snapshots of the wreck allegedly passed around by first responders.
The photos were taken on “at least April 28th”. [Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies] equipment and at least a dozen firefighters,” some of whom touted the photos like trophies “at a bar while pantomiming the dismemberment and showing the photos over cocktails at an awards gala,” Bryant’s lawsuit says.
Li said one of the deputies responding at the crash site walked around the wreckage and took close-up photos of the NBA legend’s dismembered body parts.
A deputy guided a firefighter up and down the crash site where he identified possible body parts, and the firefighter took photos, Li said.
In testimony taken in court, Det. Scott Miller said the images had been sent to him and he asked his wife if she would like to see the gruesome images, but she said no.
“I told her there were mountains of meat,” Miller said in an interview, then laughed out loud in the recording.
Vanessa Bryant broke down after hearing the blatant comment.
Miller went on to say that Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and others in his department were confronted with deputies who shared the pictures at a bar and with family, but Villanueva denied having knowledge of a complaint filed with his department to have.
Li said a man who was at a bar in Norco, California, happened to see Deputy Joey Cruz sharing the pictures on his iPhone with a bartender. Li played a video of the encounter, which showed the bartender wincing and stepping back in shock as he looked at the phone’s screen.
Moments later, Cruz was seen laughing at the bar. The man who saw Cruz share the photo reported it to the sheriff’s office, he said.
Around the same time, Li said, the wife of a county firefighter also reported to fire officials that several first responders shared and discussed the graphic accident photos at an awards ceremony.
Capt. Matthew Vander Horch emailed his supervisors about the complaint and said he would open an investigation, Li said. However, the sheriff’s department intervened and halted the investigation, Vander Horch said in a statement.
The sheriff’s deputies were told to erase everything on their phones and buy new ones, the attorney claimed.
Villanueva was questioned a month after the crash about reports his deputies shared photos. The sheriff said it’s not uncommon for deputies to take photos of the bodies during incidents and collect them in “death books” as keepsakes.
In a separate video, Villanueva clarified that only coroners and officers from the National Transit Safety Board should be authorized to take photos of these types of incidents for investigative purposes only, and that no one else is permitted to do so.
“When this type of behavior is tolerated, it creates a culture of callousness,” Li told judges-picked on Wednesday.
Los Angeles County attorneys wrote in a court brief that there was no evidence the images were shared publicly.
US District Judge John Walter John Walter reinforced Bryant’s lawsuit with a similar lawsuit brought by Orange County financial adviser Chris Chester, who lost his wife Sarah and their 13-year-old daughter Payton in the accident.
Chester also struggled to keep his composure as his attorney, Jerry Jackson, described the horrific way his wife was found by first responders.
Jackson said the bodies of Sarah and Peyton were found in a ravine 100 feet from the main impact site. Sarah’s torso was cut open at the waist and her organs, privates, colon, fallopian tubes and entrails were scattered over the bushes in the gorge and surrounding areas.
The violent scene was among photos shared by several sheriffs and firefighters, Jackson said.
“In Mr. Chester’s darkest way, he said he thought someday, somewhere, somehow, those responsible… would be brought to justice,” Jackson said. “Today is that day.”
Jackson said the devastated father had a hard time dealing with the deaths of his wife and daughters and turned to drinking at a rock bottom.
Judge Walter stated that the trial would take about a week and would be divided into two phases, according to the City News Service.
The first phase of the trial would address Bryant’s federal claims that the taking and distribution of photographs by county personnel violated their constitutional rights. In the second phase, state legal claims would be asserted.
https://nypost.com/2022/08/10/vanessa-bryant-sobs-during-first-day-of-kobe-crash-photos-trial/ Vanessa Bryant sobs on day one of the Kobe crash photo trial