Basketball icon Kobe Bryant and his young daughter died in a helicopter crash in early 2020
Vanessa Bryant, the wife of the late NBA legend Kobe Bryant, broke down in court during opening statements in a privacy trial against emergency responders who are alleged to have shared photographs of the basketball star's dead body following a helicopter crash which killed him, his young daughter, and seven others in January 2020. Pilot error was blamed for the crash.
Bryant's attorney Luis Li blamed a "culture of callousness" among Los Angeles County deputies and firefighters after cellphone photos were captured at the scene of the accident, and claimed that they were used for "visual gossip" and that they were shared "for a laugh."
"They were shared by deputies playing video games," Li said in court. "They were shared repeatedly with people who had absolutely no reason to receive them."
Li added the photos showed "pictures of broken bodies, close-ups of limbs and burnt flesh."
However, the defense argued that photographic evidence taken by emergency responders was a critical tool used at the time to help others navigate to the crash scene which was at a hard to reach area of the Calabasas hills close to Los Angeles.
"Site photography is essential," argued lawyer J. Mira Hashmall.
Bryant's widow was visibly affected by the graphic detail in which her attorney described the sharing of the images, as well as their content, and said that her learning of the existence of the crash scene images compounded what was already the worst experience of her life.
"January 26, 2020, was the worst day of Vanessa Bryant's life," said Li. "The county made it much worse. They poured salt in an open wound and rubbed it in."
Security camera footage was played to the court which showed an off-duty sheriff's deputy showing the images on his cellphone to a bartender in a bar, after which the man visibly recoils. The two men were seen laughing in the bar some time later.
Li also detailed that the photos were shared by firefighters at an award's banquet, and that they were subsequently distributed to around 30 people.
Vanessa Bryant, Li said, "will be haunted by what they did forever" and further stated that she lives in constant fear of her children one day seeing the photographs online. Li added that Los Angeles County failed in their duty to account for each digital copy of the photographs and protect them from distribution.
Hashmall, though, said officials were diligent in their handling of the photographs.
"They're not online. They're not in the media. They've never even been seen by the plaintiffs themselves," Hashmall said, adding that all known copies have been deleted.
"That is not an accident. That is a function of how diligent they were.
"There is no doubt these families have suffered. It's unspeakable. But this case is not about the loss from the crash. It's about the pictures," she added.
California governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law shortly after the crash called the Kobe Bryant Act making it illegal to share photos of a dead person from an accident site unless for purposes related to the case.