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Vanessa Bryant’s invasion of privacy trial against LA County begins

Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images, FILE

(LOS ANGELES) — Jury selection and opening arguments in Vanessa Bryant’s case against Los Angeles County began Wednesday.

Bryant filed a lawsuit in September 2020, alleging that first responders took and shared photos of her husband’s and daughter’s remains on Jan. 26, 2020. Bryant’s husband, basketball superstar Kobe Bryant, and daughter Gianna were killed in a helicopter crash. Everyone on board, including the pilot, was killed.

“Mrs. Bryant feels ill at the thought that sheriff’s deputies, firefighters, and members of the public have gawked at gratuitous images of her deceased husband and child,” her lawsuit states. “She lives in fear that she or her children will one day confront horrific images of their loved ones online.”

Orange County financial adviser Chris Chester also filed a lawsuit against the county for photos taken of his wife and daughter killed in the same crash. In July, U.S. District Judge John Walter decided to consolidate Bryant’s and Chester’s trials.

Both Bryant and Chester claim they suffered emotional distress because of the alleged sharing of photos.

On Wednesday, Bryant’s attorneys said they wanted to call a witness from the county coroner’s office, adding that the witness should bring “all photographs” of the victims from the crash, according to court documents.

The L.A. County’s legal team opposed the request, with attorney Mira Hashmall saying they “are highly sensitive, gruesome images that have no place in this courtroom.”

Hashmall said the plaintiffs are trying to “inflame the jury’s emotions” by including the coroner’s photos.

“If the plaintiffs really wanted to keep the tragic details of what happened to their loved ones out of the public domain, they would not put these photos into the case,” Hashmall said.

L.A. County maintains that first responders did not share any photos from the scene of the crash.

While the county “sympathizes with the losses suffered by the Bryant and Chester families,” the case is about whether the county publicly disseminated crash site photos in violation of the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, Hashmall told City News Services. “From the time of the crash to now, the county has worked tirelessly to prevent its crash site photos from getting into the public domain. Over two and a half years later, no county photos have appeared in the media, none can be found online, and the plaintiffs admit they’ve never seen them.”

 

The county also attests that an investigation by the Internal Affairs Bureau of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department confirmed that all of the photos were destroyed.

Both Bryant’s and Chester’s lawsuits argue that the photos were shared before being deleted by first responders.

“At least 11 [sheriff’s] personnel and a dozen firefighters shared the photos within 24 hours of the crash,” Bryant’s lawsuit said. “In the following weeks, one [sheriff’s] deputy flaunted photos of remains at a bar, another texted photos to a group of video game buddies, and [county fire] personnel displayed photos at an awards gala.”

According to the lawsuits, the images taken of the wreckage and remains at the Calabasas crash site are graphic. Bryant’s lawsuit states that Sheriff Alex Villanueva told Bryant he was securing the scene and ordered all responders to delete any photos taken, but that responders did not do so and Villanueva attempted to “cover it up.”

Villanueva and L.A. County have denied that any photos were shared under their supervision, according to court documents. ABC News reached out for comment and did not receive a response.

Since Bryant filed her lawsuit, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an invasion-of-privacy bill, named after Kobe Bryant, in September 2020 to make it illegal for first responders to share photos of a dead person at a crime scene “for any purpose other than an official law enforcement purpose.” The misdemeanor crime is punishable by up to $1,000 per violation.

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