Vanessa Bryant lost her husband Kobe Bryant and their 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in a helicopter crash in January 2020.
The NBA Hall of Famer, Kobe Bryant and daughter, Gianna Bryant, along with other parents and teenagers, chartered a helicopter to a girls’ basketball tournament when it crashed into the Calabasas hills west of Los Angeles.
On August 10, 2022, Kobe’s wife Vanessa launched a federal and civil invasion-of-privacy suit, alleging that firefighters and first responders have overshared graphic photos of her loved-ones.
The lawsuit alleges that the photos were shared on “at least 28 [Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies] devices and by at least a dozen firefighters,” some of whom showed off the photos like trophies “in a bar while pantomiming dismemberment and showing off the photos over cocktails at an awards gala.”
“They poured salt into an unbearable wound.” That’s how Vanessa Bryant’s lawyer, Luis Li, described the way county employees dealt with photographs of the victims, causing severe emotional trauma to Vanessa.
During the jury proceedings, Victor Gutierrez, a bartender, said an off-duty L.A. County deputy showed him the gruesome photos, which made him wince.
When the bartender was asked if he saw pictures of Vanessa’s daughter Gianna, Vanessa, present in the courtroom, became emotional, cried and stood up. Her lawyer asked the presiding judge if she could leave the room, a request that was granted.
Gutierrez continued with his testimony. Surveillance videos, in which the deputy could be seen showing Gutierrez the photos at the bar on January 28, 2020, were played to the jury. Gutierrez also admitted in court that he gave details of the state of the victims’ bodies to five other people.
Ralph Mendez, one of the people Gutierrez told, recounted how he was in disbelief, disappointed, disgusted and angry. “Being in the position he is… I felt he has the public’s trust riding on his shoulders and when he showed photos of the victims he betrayed the public’s trust,” he said.
Mendez later filed a complaint against the deputy who showed him the photos.
J. Mira Hashmall, an attorney defending the county, said, “Site photography is essential,” and that the exchange of photos among first responders was necessary for them to determine if they could still save lives at the “chaotic, dangerous and hard-to-reach crash scene.”
She also mentioned how the photos have not been seen in two years, testament to how County officers were able to do their jobs. “They’re not online. They’re not in the media. They’ve never even been seen by the plaintiffs themselves,” she said.
Bryant’s lawyer, Li, argued that grisly images were widely disseminated and that there is fear they might surface again in the future.
“Every single day since the county did what it did, Mrs. Bryant [has] the risk, has the fear, has the anxiety, has the terror that they might have to re-live the loss of their family members in the most excruciating way,” he said.
The trial is expected to take up to a week, and will deal with Vanessa Bryant’s federal claims that the dissemination of photos by county leaders violated her constitutional rights. Litigation of state law claims will follow.