A privacy invasion lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff and Fire Department begins Wednesday in a U.S. District Court just over a mile from where Kobe Bryant played for the Lakers.
Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, claims deputies did not take the photos for investigative purposes and shared them with firefighters responding to the scene of the Jan. 26, 2020 crash. The lawsuit said that a deputy had shown the photos to bar patrons and that a firefighter had shown them to colleagues on leave.
Vanessa Bryant is asking for unspecified millions in compensation.
“Ms. Bryant feels bad that sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and members of the public were gawked at gratuitous images of her deceased husband and child,” the lawsuit states. “She lives in the fear that she or her children will one day face horrific images of their loved ones online.”
Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and five other parents and players were traveling to a women’s basketball tournament when their chartered helicopter crashed in the Calabasas Hills west of Los Angeles in fog. Federal safety officials blamed pilot error on the wreckage.
Vanessa Bryant also sued the helicopter rental company and the deceased pilot’s estate.
The county argued that Bryant suffered emotional distress from the deaths, not the photos, which were deleted by Sheriff Alex Villanueva. He said the photos had never been in the media, on the internet or otherwise publicly released and that the lawsuit was speculative about the harm she might suffer.
A law prompted by the accident makes it a crime for first responders to take unauthorized photos of dead people at the scene of an accident or crime.
The county has already agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle a similar lawsuit brought by two families whose loved ones died in the accident. Vanessa Bryant has not settled her case, indicating that she is looking for more.
The litigation has sometimes been ugly.
When the county requested a psychiatric evaluation of Bryant to determine if she suffered emotional distress from the photos, her attorneys criticized “scorched-earth discovery tactics” to intimidate her and other members of the family of the victims, to drop their charges.
County responded by saying it was sensitive to Bryant’s losses, but dismissed his case as a “money grab.”