Vanessa Bryant’s ongoing civil trial against Los Angeles County has become so graphic and gruesome that Bryant felt compelled to leave the courtroom during testimony three times in the first three days, including once after she got up and left the room in distress.
In another exchange, an attorney questioned a coroner’s office witness about what happened to the liver, bladder, and skull of one of the victims of the helicopter crash that also killed Bryant’s daughter and her husband, NBA legend Kobe Bryant.
All of this contributes to the cruel irony of this graphic case. Bryant is suing the county for invasion of privacy, accusing county sheriff’s and fire department employees of improperly photographing and sharing grisly photos of her deceased daughter and husband shortly after they died in the January 2020 crash that killed all nine aboard.
Her attorney told the jury last week that she is haunted by the thought of these crash-scene photos resurfacing at any moment, despite the fact that the county claims the photos were never posted online and were deleted shortly after the accident.
The county has pointed out that it is the attorneys for Bryant and Chester who have introduced these macabre descriptions of their loved ones’ remains into the trial, not the county. To some observers, this appears to be the equivalent of burning the village to save it.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys responded by claiming that the county forced them to do so. That’s because, according to the plaintiffs, county sheriff’s and fire department employees deleted the photos in question shortly after the crash, destroying evidence of what they did.
As a result, the plaintiffs’ attorneys argue that the only way to “prove” what was in these since-deleted photos is to obtain verbal descriptions of the photos from witnesses in court and then match them to the bodies of the clients’ deceased family members.
To some extent, the case’s graphic nature is difficult to avoid. The victims were killed in a high-velocity crash in Calabasas, California, in which the helicopter essentially exploded apart upon impact. Body parts and debris were strewn across a hilly, hellish landscape, with a toxic magnesium fire threatening those who arrived. This would have been reflected in any photos taken.
The county continued to fight having graphic details spill into court, calling it inflammatory and noting that the photos were deleted to avoid public distribution. Yet, at the request of those who claim that sharing these images violated the families’ privacy, the descriptions of their contents and the crash are now being made public in a high-profile trial.
County counsel Hashmall told the judge early in the trial that she thought Chester’s attorney went too far when questioning the coroner’s witness about a victim’s remains.
Certain witnesses, in particular, have been steered into graphic detail by Jackson. This is because the county required this strategy, he stated in court. The county has stated that there is no evidence that his client’s family is even in the photos at issue in this case, in contrast to Kobe Bryant, whose size and skin color arguably made his body easier to identify.
So Jackson has attempted to prove that his client’s deceased family members were in these illicit photos by comparing witness descriptions of the photos to the condition of the Chesters’ bodies as documented by their autopsy reports.
Chester and Bryant claim that the taking and sharing of these unnecessary photos violated their constitutional rights, and that the county failed to prevent it due to a lack of policy and training. They claim emotional distress as a result of it and are seeking damages to be determined at trial.
However, they did not need to take this to trial and proceed with it. To end similar lawsuits over the photos, the families of two other victims agreed to accept $1.25 million from the county.