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Singers Ciara, Monica join Vanessa Bryant at trial over Kobe crash photos

Vanessa Bryant was joined by two celebrity supporters — singers Ciara and Monica — in Los Angeles federal court Monday as her trial over graphic photos of the helicopter crash that killed her NBA star husband and 13-year-old daughter stretched into its ninth day.

The Grammy-winning artists sat behind Bryant, 40, as she listened to testimony from Captain William Jaegar, an internal affairs officer with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, who was questioned about a probe tied to the photos.

Singers Ciara (left) and Monica (far right) escorting Vanessa Bryant to the courthouse.
Vanessa Bryant, Ciara, Monica, Natalie Bryant
The R&B artists and close friends to Vanessa support her and daughter Natalia during the trial Monday.
Marjorie Hernandez/NY Post

Bryant, wearing a white top, a long black skirt, and heels, was flanked by her model daughter Natalia Bryant, 19, who was spotted wearing a black suit and walking arm-in-arm with a young, unidentified man. 

Each time graphic testimony came up about remains found at the crash site, the entourage left the courtroom and only returned when Bryant’s attorney signaled it was over. 

Bryant is suing Los Angeles County for invasion of privacy over the photos of the tragic crash that killed her Lakers legend husband, Kobe Bryant, 41, their daughter Gianna and seven others in Calabasas, California in Jan. 2020.

US District Judge John Walter consolidated Bryant’s lawsuit with a similar claim filed by Orange County financial adviser Chris Chester, who lost his wife Sarah and their 13-year-old daughter, Payton, in the accident.

Jaeger was questioned about an investigation the internal affairs office conducted into five deputies over photos taken of the crime scene.

One of the officers investigated was Deputy Joey Cruz, who showed the gruesome pictures to a bartender in Norwalk, Calif. The bartender, Victor Gutierrez, previously testified that Cruz let him see disturbing shots that included severed body parts strewn across a hillside in Calabasas.

Vanessa Bryant walked out of Federal Court.
Bryant walking out of federal court after testifying Friday over the graphic helicopter crash images.
Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag

Cruz, in testimony last week, admitted that he had shared the images with Gutierrez, but denied showing other patrons pictures of Kobe Bryant’s torso on his cell phone.

The internal affairs probe found Cruz and other deputies violated several department policies over the way they handled the crash pictures and the rebuke will remain in their personnel records, Jaeger told the court.

Allegations against another deputy, Doug Johnson, were found to be “unfounded,” Jaeger testified because it was his duty to take photos as the first officer to respond to the crash site. 

Johnson, who took the stand during the third day of trial, said he took 25 pictures at the crash site and texted them to two firefighters that he believed were high up in command.

About a third of his pictures were close-up shots of body parts, he testified.

Just after 11 a.m. local time, the plaintiffs rested their case and the defense called their first witness, LA County Fire Chief Anthony Marrone – who admitted during cross-examination he was unaware that one of his captains had taken inappropriate photos of the victims’ remains. 

“I gave very direct, specific orders to be sensitive with the photography that they took… I wanted to make sure our personnel exercised sensitivity with the photos,” Marrone recalled telling Drew Smith, the battalion chief at the crash site. 

Marrone testified he expected Smith to relay the directive to other first responders at the scene.

During cross-examination, Jerry Jackson, the attorney representing Bryant’s co-plaintiff Chris Chester, played a July 2020 deposition from Johnson, who testified he took a fire captain around the scene and pointed out remains strewn across the crash site. 

The fire captain, Brian Jordan, then snapped photos of the remains, including a torso that is believed to be Kobe Bryant’s, Johnson said in the deposition. 

When asked about the testimony, Marrone said that was the first time he heard that Jordan took photos of the remains. 

“I have not seen this before,” Marrone testified when he read over Johnson’s deposition.

When asked by attorney Jerry Jackson if he believes the victims and their families’ dignity was “tarnished” by the pictures, Marrone replied, “I think Capt. Jordan’s dignity was tarnished.”  

Lawyers for Vanessa Bryant have alleged that county officials inappropriately shared the private pictures, causing her “severe emotional distress” that “compounded the trauma of losing Kobe and Gianna.”

Defense attorneys said they plan to call Dr. Marc Cohen to the stand on Tuesday to provide his expert opinion regarding Vanessa Bryant and Chris Chester’s emotional distress. According to his biography, Cohen is an Associate Clinical Professor at the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences. 

Luis Li, Vanessa Bryant attorney, told the judge that they could call forensic psychiatrist Dr. Richard Shaw to rebut Cohen’s expert testimony, or call Vanessa Bryant back to the stand, “depending on how it goes.”

Shaw, who is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stanford University, testified in May as an expert rebuttal witness for Johnny Depp during the actor’s defamation suit against ex Amber Heard. 

Closing arguments could start as early as Tuesday. 

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