AP

Lawyer: Photos of Kobe Bryant’s remains shared ‘for a laugh’

Aug 9, 2022, 9:17 PM | Updated: Aug 11, 2022, 12:32 pm

LOS ANGELES (AP) — An institutional “culture of callousness” 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 Lakers star, his 13-year-old daughter, and seven others, a lawyer for Bryant’s widow told a jury Wednesday.

Vanessa Bryant’s attorney Luis Li told jurors in his opening statement in U.S. District Court in her invasion of privacy trial against the county that the cell-phone photos shot 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.”

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

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

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

Li told jurors that learning a month after the crash about the photos’ circulation not from the county but 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.”

Li played jurors 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 firefighters looking at the phone photos two weeks later at an awards banquet, and showed the jury an animated chart documenting their spread to nearly 30 people.

Li said the county failed to conduct a thorough investigation to make sure every copy of the photo was accounted for, and because of the fear that they will someday surface, and her surviving children may see 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 pictures have not appeared in more than two years showed that leaders in the sheriff’s and fire department did their jobs.

“They’re not online. They’re not in the media. They’ve never even been seen by the plaintiffs themselves,” Hashmall said. She added, “That is not an accident. That is a function of how diligent they were.”

Sheriff Alex Villanueva and department officials immediately brought in all those involved and ordered them to delete the photos, rather than conduct a long official investigation that might harm the families further, she said.

“He picked what he viewed as the only option — decisive action,” Hashmall said. “He felt like every second mattered.”

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

She said the deputy was struggling emotionally from the difficulty of dealing with the crash scene, and that the bartender was a longtime friend in whom he was confiding.

“He pulled out his phone, and that should not have happened,” she said. “In a lapse, in a moment of weakness, he showed those photos, and he has regretted it every day of his life.”

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

“There is no doubt these families have suffered,” she said. “It’s unspeakable. But this case is not about the loss from the crash. 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 seeks 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 Jan. 26, 2020, crash. Bryant and Chester declined to settle.

Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-od daughter Gianna, and other parents and players were flying to a girls basketball tournament when their chartered helicopter crashed in the fog. Federal safety officials blamed pilot error for the wreck.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Israeli Embassy...

Associated Press

US airman dies after setting himself ablaze outside Israeli Embassy in Israel-Hamas war protest

An active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force has died after he set himself ablaze outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.

2 days ago

Biden and Trump to visit Mexico border Thursday immigration...

Associated Press

Biden and Trump both plan trips to the Mexico border Thursday, dueling for advantage on immigration

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will make dueling trips to the U.S-Mexico border on Thursday.

2 days ago

Arizona and New York attorneys feud over extraditing suspect...

Associated Press

Why Alvin Bragg and Rachel Mitchell are fighting over extraditing suspect in New York hotel killing

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell says she isn't into extraditing a suspect due to her lack of faith in Manhattan’s top prosecutor.

6 days ago

A Gila monster is displayed at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Dec. 14, 2018. A 34-year-old Color...

Associated Press

Colorado man dies after being bitten by pet Gila monster

A Colorado man has died after being bitten by his pet Gila monster in what would be a rare death by one of the desert lizards if the creature's venom turns out to have been the cause.

7 days ago

Police clear the area following a shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs NFL football Super Bowl celebr...

Associated Press

1 dead, many wounded after shooting at Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory parade

One person died after 22 people were hit by gunfire in a shooting at the end of the Kansas Chiefs' Super Bowl victory celebration Wednesday.

14 days ago

This image from House Television shows House Speaker Mike Johnson of La., banging the gavel after h...

Associated Press

GOP-led House impeaches Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas — by one vote — over border management

Having failed to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas the first time, House Republicans are determined to try again Tuesday.

15 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

Lawyer: Photos of Kobe Bryant’s remains shared ‘for a laugh’