Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit over the graphic souvenir photos that Los Angeles County first responders allegedly snapped at the scene where her husband, daughter, and seven others perished in a helicopter crash two years ago can proceed to trial, a federal judge ruled Wednesday night.
The widow of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant filed her lawsuit eight months after the Jan. 26, 2020, crash, saying she suffered severe emotional distress and became physically “ill” over the thought of strangers “gawking” at grisly images of her husband and 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in the wreckage of the tragedy.
County officials argued the case has no legal merit because no photos ever leaked to the public, but U.S. District Judge John F. Walter rejected their bid to dismiss the suit ahead of a trial set to begin Feb. 22.
“The court concludes that there are genuine issues of material fact for trial,” the order from Judge Walter states.
Bryant’s lawsuit alleges multiple Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies “pulled out their personal cell phones and snapped photos of the dead children, parents, and coaches” at the scene “for their own personal gratification.”
“The gratuitous images soon became talked about within the department, as deputies displayed them to colleagues in settings that had nothing to do with investigating the accident. One deputy even used his photos of the victims to try to impress a woman at a bar, bragging about how he had been at the crash site,” her filings allege.
She further claims a Los Angeles County fire official received crash scene photos from colleagues that he later shared with off-duty firefighters and their wives and girlfriends during an awards ceremony at a Hilton hotel in February 2020.
“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,” lawyers for the county argued in paperwork asking that the case be dismissed.
“This has always been about accountability. We look forward to presenting the facts to a jury,” Bryant’s lawyer Luis Li said in a statement sent to Rolling Stone.
“We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling. The fact remains that the County did not cause Ms. Bryant’s loss and, as was promised on the day of the crash, none of the County’s accident site photos were ever publicly disseminated. The County did its job and looks forward to showing that at trial,” Skip Miller, the lead lawyer representing L.A. County, said in a statement.
Kobe Bryant, 41, was traveling with his daughter and seven others to a youth basketball tournament when his chartered helicopter crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, California, amid dense fog, killing all nine people on board.