A federal judge in California has denied Los Angeles County’s request to dismiss Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit over photos taken at the scene of her husband Kobe Bryant’s fatal helicopter crash in January 2020.
The NBA legend, his daughter Gianna, and seven other passengers were killed when their helicopter crashed into a Calabasas hillside.
Vanessa Bryant filed the lawsuit in September 2020, alleging that photos taken at the scene were shared by county fire and sheriff’s department employees in settings unrelated to the investigation, such as a bar.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages for civil rights violations, negligence, emotional distress, and invasion of privacy.
In a November court filing, Los Angeles County attorneys requested that the lawsuit be dismissed.
Bryant’s fear of the crash site photos surfacing, according to the county’s lawyers, is a hypothetical harm. “Plaintiff’s fear is also unfounded,” the county said, citing the findings of a neutral forensic examination conducted by an independent examiner, which “confirmed that there are no photos containing victims’ remains and no evidence of public dissemination.” As a result, Plaintiff has nothing to be concerned about.” They claim the photos are “lost” and “unrecoverable.”
However, on Wednesday, US District Court Judge John F. Walter ruled that “there are genuine issues of material facts for trial.”
“We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling,” said Skip Miller, an outside attorney for Los Angeles County. “The fact remains that the County did not cause Ms. Bryant’s loss, and none of the County’s accident site photos were ever publicly disseminated, as promised on the day of the crash.”
According to Bryant’s attorney, the case is about accountability. “We are excited to present the facts to a jury,” said Luis Li in a statement.
The trial could start as soon as next month.
Deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, according to Bryant’s lawsuit, “They took out their personal cell phones and took pictures of the deceased children, parents, and coaches. The deputies took these photos for their own amusement.”
Bryant’s lawyers claimed in an amended complaint filed in March 2021 that on January 28, 2020, two days after the crash, a deputy “boasted that he had worked at the scene of the accident where Kobe Bryant had died” and showed photos of the crash site to a bartender and a bar patron.
The bartender who saw the photos then told other customers about them and “described specific characteristics of Mr. Bryant’s remains,” according to the complaint.
One of the customers was “very, very disturbed” by the situation and emailed a complaint to the sheriff’s department, describing the deputy.
According to the complaint, another deputy allegedly shared photos with a friend with whom he “plays video games nightly.”
According to county lawyers, this is the first time the fire and sheriff’s departments have “confronted allegations of improper photo sharing and taken appropriate action to address them.”
LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva stated in March 2020 that all photos in the possession of first responders had been deleted.
According to the court document, county lawyers stated in their request to dismiss the case that “county personnel worked tirelessly to protect the crash site, identify the victims, and notify the families.”