A federal judge in California has denied a request from Los Angeles County to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Vanessa Bryant 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 others were killed when a helicopter they were in crashed into a Calabasas hillside.
The lawsuit, filed by Vanessa Bryant in September 2020, claims photos taken at the scene were shared by county fire and sheriff’s department employees in settings irrelevant to the investigation, including a bar.
The lawsuit seeks undisclosed damages, claiming civil rights violations, negligence, emotional distress and violation of privacy.
Lawyers for Los Angeles County requested the lawsuit be dismissed in a November court filing.
The county’s lawyers argued Bryant’s fear of the crash site photos surfacing is a hypothetical harm. “Plaintiff’s fear is also not reasonable,” said the county, pointing to results from a neutral forensic examination by an independent examiner that “confirmed that there are no photos containing victims’ remains and no evidence of public dissemination. There is therefore nothing for Plaintiff to fear.” They say the photos are “gone” and “cannot be recovered.”
But US District Court Judge John F. Walter ruled Wednesday that “there are genuine issues of material facts for trial.”
“We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling,” Skip Miller, an outside attorney for Los Angeles County, said in a statement. “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.”
Bryant’s attorney says the case is about accountability. “We look forward to presenting the facts to a jury,” Luis Li said in a statement to CNN.
The trial is set to begin as soon as next month.
Deputy used crash scene photo to show off at a bar, lawsuit claims
According to Bryant’s lawsuit, deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department “pulled out their personal cell phones and snapped photos of the dead children, parents, and coaches. The deputies took these photos for their own personal gratification.”
In an amended complaint filed in March 2021, Bryant’s lawyers said 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 on January 28, 2020, two days after the crash.
The bartender who saw the photos then shared with other customers that he had seen the photos and “described specific characteristics of Mr. Bryant’s remains,” the complaint states.
One of the customers found this situation “very, very disturbing” and emailed a complaint to the sheriff’s department, describing the deputy.
Another deputy allegedly shared photos with a friend with whom he “plays video games nightly,” the complaint said.
County lawyers previously said this is the first time the fire and sheriff’s departments “confronted allegations of improper photo sharing and they took appropriate action to address them.”
In March 2020, LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said all photos in the possession of first responders have been deleted.
In their request to dismiss the case, lawyers for the county said, “County personnel worked tirelessly to protect the crash site, identify the victims, and notify the families,” according to the court document.
CNN’s Stella Chan contributed to this report.