Lawsuit over Kobe Bryant crash scene photos moves forward

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FILE – In this June 7, 2009, file photo, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) points to a player behind him after making a basket in the closing seconds against the Orlando Magic in Game 2 of the NBA basketball finals, in Los Angeles. Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. Each was an NBA champion, an MVP, an Olympic gold medalist, annual locks for All-Star and All-Defensive teams. And now, the ultimate honor comes their way: On Saturday night, May 15, 2021, in Uncasville, Connecticut, they all officially become members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

CALABASAS, Calif. (NewsNation) — A federal judge is set to hear a lawsuit filed by Vanessa Bryant against Los Angeles County over photos taken by authorities at the scene of her husband Kobe Bryant’s fatal helicopter crash.

The NBA legend, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others died in a fiery crash when their helicopter plunged into a Southern California hillside in January 2020.

In the aftermath of the crash, at least eight Los Angeles County deputies were accused of taking or sharing graphic photos of the crash scene, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said. He quickly ordered deputies to delete the images. Later, it was learned that a county fire captain showed images to off-duty firefighters and a deputy showed images to patrons in a bar. Villanueva said the department has a policy against taking and sharing crime scene photos, but it did not apply to accident scenes.

Vanessa Bryant filed the lawsuit last year claiming she and her family suffered emotional distress over the sharing of the gruesome photographs. Earlier this year, lawyers for Los Angeles County failed to persuade a judge to end the lawsuit, with the judge saying that, “There are genuine issues of material facts for trial.”

“The close-up photos of Gianna and Kobe’s remains were passed around on at least 28 LASD devices and by at least a dozen firefighters,” the plaintiff’s attorneys wrote. “And that was only the beginning. The gratuitous sharing continued in the following days and weeks and included such outrageous conduct as flaunting the photos in a bar while pantomiming dismemberment and showing off the photos over cocktails at an awards gala.”

  • Vanessa Bryant

The trial was set to begin in February but was postponed due to a backlog of cases. The judge asked the county and Vanessa Bryant’s lawyers to settle the dispute out of court with a mediation deadline set in April. No resolution was reached.

Since the crash, new laws have been passed, including one that makes it a crime for first responders to take unauthorized photos of deceased people at the scene of an accident or crime.

Federal safety officials announced the probable cause in February 2021, concluding that the pilot flew through clouds in an apparent violation of federal standards and became disoriented before the crash. NTSB published the final 86-page report detailing discoveries found in the year-long investigation.

Vanessa Bryant sued the pilot, Ara Zobayan, and the companies that owned and operated the helicopter for negligence and the wrongful deaths of her husband and daughter. Families of other victims sued the helicopter companies but not the pilot.

Vanessa Bryant said Island Express Helicopters Inc., which operated the aircraft, and its owner, Island Express Holding Corp., did not properly train or supervise Zobayan. She said the pilot was careless and negligent to fly in fog and should have aborted the flight. Bryant settled the lawsuit last year.

Top left to right: Gianna Bryant, Kobe Bryant, Payton Chester, Sarah Chester. Bottom left to right: Christina Mauser, Alyssa Altobelli, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli and Ara Zobayan.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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