Jury selection is set to begin in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday for the trial of Vanessa Bryant over graphic photos taken by first responders at the scene of the helicopter crash that killed her husband, Kobe Bryant , their teenage daughter and seven others. .
U.S. District Judge John Walter consolidated Bryant’s lawsuit against Los Angeles County with that of Orange County financial adviser Chris Chester, who makes many of the same allegations.
The NBA star’s widow and Chester say they suffered emotional distress when the county sheriff and fire department took photos and allegedly shared photos from the scene of the accident. Among the nine victims were Chester’s wife Sarah, their 13-year-old daughter Payton and the Bryants’ 13-year-old daughter Gianna.
Mira Hashmall, LA County’s lead outside attorney in the litigation, said in a statement to the City News Service that while the county “complains with the losses suffered by the Bryant and Chester families,” the case is about the issue. whether the county has released the crash site publicly. photos in violation of the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.
“The answer is no,” the attorney said. “From the crash until now, the county has worked tirelessly to keep photos of its crash site from entering the public domain. More than two and a half years later, no photos from the county have appeared in media, none can be found online, and plaintiffs admit they have never seen them.”
The judge said he would appoint 10 jurors, which would include four additional panelists in case there were any dropouts for medical or other reasons.
A long list of potential witnesses includes Vanessa Bryant and Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who reportedly promised the widow that the crash site was “safe” and that no one would ever see photos taken of the remains of her husband and daughter. The sheriff testified in a deposition that he ordered deputies to get rid of any crash scene photos they had on their phones, as part of his promise.
Plaintiffs allege that responding county personnel took graphic close-up photos of human remains scattered around the Calabasas crash site on January 26, 2020, and then shared those photos within and beyond their services.
“At least 11 (sheriff’s) staff and a dozen firefighters shared the photos within 24 hours of the crash,” Bryant’s attorneys wrote in court documents. “In the weeks that followed, a (sheriff’s) deputy posted photos of remains at a bar, another texted photos to a group of video game friends and (county fire department) staff. posted photos at an awards gala.”
County prosecutors insist the photos were never released publicly and were all deleted from the cellphones used to take them. The defense says an investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Office of Internal Affairs confirms that all of the photos were destroyed.
Vanessa Bryant sued County in September 2020, followed by Chester’s case two months later.
Among other claims, Bryant maintains that there is a long-standing practice of collecting and sharing photos of deaths within LASD and the LA County Fire Department.
In a pretrial brief, county prosecutors strongly disagreed, saying the situation was an anomaly that was immediately addressed.
“There is no evidence that county employees have a ‘persistent and widespread’ practice of sharing ‘death images’ within LASD or LACFD,” according to the brief. “This was the first time LASD or LACFD had faced allegations of inappropriate photo sharing, and they took appropriate action. Every action was to prevent harm, not cause it.”
The county says it will be proven to the jury that any photos taken by staff at the hillside crash scene were ever shared with the public.
The judge indicated that the trial would be divided into two phases.
In phase one, a federal cause of action in which plaintiffs allege that the taking and dissemination of photos by county staff violated their constitutional rights to control the remains and death images of their deceased loved ones will be argued. . State law claims will be addressed in the second phase.
California legislation stemming from Bryant’s allegations was passed two years ago prohibiting peace officers and other first responders from taking unauthorized photos of deceased people at the scene of a crime or accident.