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Jury selection begins for Vanessa Bryant's lawsuit over Kobe Bryant crash photos

Jury selection to start in Vanessa Bryant trial over Kobe Bryant crash scene photos
Jury selection to start in Vanessa Bryant trial over Kobe Bryant crash scene photos 00:36

More than two years after a helicopter crash killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others in January 2020, jury selection is beginning in a case the famed sports figure's wife brought against Los Angeles County. In her lawsuit, Vanessa Bryant accuses the county sheriff's office and fire departments of taking photographs at the crash scene, which included images of her late husband's remains, and widely circulating them without the family's consent.

Vanessa Bryant's invasion of privacy trial against the departments is being held in a U.S. District Court just over a mile from where Kobe Bryant played most of his career with the Lakers. 

Bryant, who is seeking an unspecified amount of money in compensation, claims deputies did not take the photos for investigative purposes and shared them with firefighters who responded to the crash scene. The lawsuit said a deputy showed the photos to bar patrons, and a firefighter showed them to off-duty colleagues. 

The lawsuit also accused deputies of deliberately engaging in a cover-up scheme to destroy evidence of the crash photos at the request of the sheriff. News of their alleged agreement first came to light in a Los Angeles Times report published several weeks after the crash.

Vanessa Bryant and Kobe Bryant attend a gala on November 09, 2019 in Culver City, California. Rodin Eckenroth/FilmMagic

"Mrs. Bryant feels ill at the thought that sheriff's deputies, firefighters, and members of the public have 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 confront horrific images of their loved ones online."

The complaint went on to note that social media users and "internet trolls" had claimed in online forums "to have seen photos of the victims' remains." 

"Their accounts are plausible given the number of individuals who took and transmitted improper photos, the ease with which cell phone photos are electronically shared and saved in cloud storage, and the egregious failure to take reasonable steps to prevent dissemination of the photos," it read.

Vanessa Bryant
Vanessa Bryant on May 15, 2021. Maddie Meyer / Getty

Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and other parents and children were flying to a basketball tournament when their chartered helicopter crashed in the Calabasas hills west of Los Angeles in fog. Federal safety officials blamed pilot error for the wreck.

Vanessa Bryant has also sued the helicopter charter company and the deceased pilot's estate. She and other families whose loved ones were killed in the crash reached a settlement with the helicopter company last summer.

The county has argued that Bryant has suffered emotional distress from the deaths, not the photos, which were ordered deleted by Sheriff Alex Villanueva. They said the photos have never been in the media, on the internet, or otherwise publicly disseminated and that the lawsuit is speculative about harm she may suffer.

A law prompted by the crash makes it a crime for first responders to take unauthorized photos of deceased people at the scene of an accident or crime.

The county already agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle a similar case brought by two families whose relatives died in the Jan. 26, 2020, crash.

Bryant did not settle her case, indicating she's seeking more.

The litigation has at times been ugly.

When the county sought a psychiatric evaluation of Bryant to determine if she suffered emotional distress because of the photos, her lawyers criticized the "scorched-earth discovery tactics" to bully her and other family members of victims to abandon their lawsuits.

The county responded by saying they were sympathetic to Bryant's losses and dismissed her case as a "money grab."

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