In his August 2022 opening statements, Vanessa’s attorney Luis Li claimed that cell phone photos from the wreckage were shared by a deputy and fire captain “for a laugh,” and that there was no official reason for them to have been taken in the first place. “Jan. 26, 2020, was and always will be the worst day of Vanessa Bryant’s life,” he told the jury, according to the Associated Press. “They took and shared pictures of Kobe and Gianna as souvenirs. … They poured salt in an unhealable wound.”
The basketball legend died at the age of 41 alongside his then 13-year-old daughter and seven other passengers when the helicopter they were on crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, California.
Li alleged that on the day of the crash, first responders “walked around the wreckage and took pictures of broken bodies from the helicopter crash. They took close-ups of limbs, of burnt flesh. It shocks the conscience.” He argued that the photos were then “shared repeatedly with people who had absolutely no reason to receive them.”
Per the AP, the attorney then showed a video clip of Deputy Joey Cruz, one of the defendants, showing gruesome pictures of the crash and Kobe’s body to a bartender while out at a local bar. While Li made his remarks, Vanessa quietly cried from her seat in the courtroom.
In May 2020, the philanthropist filed a claim against the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department for allegedly sharing photos of the scene of the crash that killed Kobe and Gianna. Four months later, she filed a lawsuit alleging that eight sheriff’s deputies took pictures of the wreckage on their cell phones for their personal use. According to court documents, Vanessa claimed that she learned about the photos from a report in the Los Angeles Times and then reached out to the Sheriff’s Office to ask about the situation and see if she should “brace for pictures of her loved ones’ remains to surface on the internet.”
The filing argues that “the Sheriff’s Department’s outrageous actions have caused Mrs. Bryant severe emotional distress and compounded the trauma of losing Kobe and Gianna. Ms. Bryant feels ill at the thought of strangers gawking at images of her deceased husband and child, and she lives in fear that she or her children will one day confront horrific images of their loved ones online.”
She is suing for unspecified damages as a result of emotional distress.
In court, L.A. County lawyers argued that the case has no legal merit because the photos were never leaked to the public. “It is undisputed that the complained-of photos have never been in the media, on the Internet, or otherwise publicly disseminated. Plaintiff Vanessa Bryant has never seen county photos of her family members,” the lawyers said, per the AP. “They’re not online. They’re not in the media. They’ve never even been seen by the plaintiffs themselves. … That is not an accident.”
On Wednesday, August 24, Vanessa won the lawsuit and was awarded $16 million. Her co-plantiff, Chris Chester — whose wife, Sarah, and 13-year-old daughter, Payton, were killed in the crash — was awarded $15 million.
Keep scrolling to learn more about the photos and the trial: