Mark J. Terrill/AP
LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant was one of Los Angeles’ most photogenic sports personalities and images of him seen by millions around the world — smiling in victory, grimacing in agony — keep his memory alive.
But some photos of him should never be seen, his widow says, and she’s seeking unspecified millions in compensation for snapshots taken of the NBA star’s corpse that were released after he was killed in an accident. helicopter with their daughter and seven others in 2020.
Vanessa Bryant’s invasion of privacy lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff and Fire Department began Wednesday in US District Court just over a mile from where Kobe Bryant played most of his career with the Lakers. A jury was quickly seated in the case and opening statements were due to begin in the afternoon.
Vanessa Bryant claims deputies did not take the photos for investigative purposes and shared them with firefighters responding to the crash scene. The lawsuit said a deputy showed the photos to bar patrons and a firefighter showed them to off-duty colleagues.
“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,” according to the lawsuit. “She lives in 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 other parents and players were traveling to a women’s basketball tournament when their chartered helicopter crashed in fog in the Calabasas Hills west of Los Angeles. 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. They said the photos had never been shown 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 Jan. 26, 2020 crash.
Vanessa Bryant did not settle her case, indicating that she wanted more.
The litigation has sometimes been ugly.
When the county requested a psychiatric evaluation of Bryant to determine if she was suffering from emotional distress over 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.
The county responded by saying it was sensitive to Bryant’s losses and dismissed his case as a “money grab.”