Closing arguments are underway in a lawsuit over photos taken at the hillside site northwest of Los Angeles where nine people, including Lakers star Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, died in a January 2020 helicopter crash.
Vanessa Bryant, Kobe Bryant’s widow, and Irvine financial adviser Chris Chester are suing Los Angeles County for unspecified millions of dollars over the digital images. Chester’s wife Sarah and the couple’s 13-year-old daughter Payton, were among the nine people killed in the Jan. 26, 2020, crash in the hills above Calabasas.
Closing arguments in the case began Tuesday afternoon on Kobe Bryant’s 44th birthday.
The plaintiffs allege that county personnel took cell phone pictures of human remains as “souvenirs” and shared them with other law enforcement personnel and members of the public.
Bryant testified that she felt betrayed to learn first responders had taken personal photos of the crash, and said she lives in fear of the images surfacing.
Bryant, 40, told the jury in downtown Los Angeles that county personnel who took photos of the remains of Gianna violated the girl. Fighting through tears and sobs, she said she was devastated to learn that the photos were taken despite Sheriff Alex Villanueva assuring her the crash scene would be protected from such intrusions.
Bryant said she continues to suffer from mental anguish at the thought of crash site photos surfacing someday.
“I live in fear every day of being on social media and these popping up,” she testified. “I live in fear of my daughters being on social media and these popping up.”
The county argues that all images taken by deputies and firefighters were deleted upon orders of their superiors, no longer exist in any form and never entered the public domain or appeared on the internet.
Evidence presented at trial showed that a sheriff’s deputy showed a photo of Bryant’s body to a bartender as he drank, spurring an official complaint from another man drinking nearby, and that firefighters shared them with each other at an awards banquet. Others shared them with spouses. An attorney for the county said the photos had been taken only because they were essential for assessing the site moments after the crash, and that when LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva learned they were being shared, he demanded they all be deleted.