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.”
FILE PHOTO: LA county firefighters work at the scene of a helicopter crash that reportedly killed retired basketball star Kobe Bryant in Calabasas, California, U.S., January 26, 2020. REUTERS/Gene Blevins/File Photo SEARCH “1ST ANNIVERSARY OF KOBE BRYANT’S DEATH” FOR THE PHOTOS. CALABASAS, CA – JANUARY 28: Journalists report from a parking lot of the Church In the Canyon as investigators on a distant hill work at the scene of the helicopter crash, where former NBA star Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna died, on January 28, 2020 in Calabasas, California. Kobe and “Gigi” were among nine people were perished in the crash as they were flying to his Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, where he was going to coach her in a tournament game. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images) FILE PHOTO: People watch as smoke rises from the scene of a helicopter crash that reportedly killed retired basketball star Kobe Bryant in Calabasas, California, U.S., January 26, 2020. REUTERS/Ringo Chiu/File Photo SEARCH “1ST ANNIVERSARY OF KOBE BRYANT’S DEATH” FOR THE PHOTOS. FILE PHOTO: Wreckage is seen at the helicopter crash site of NBA star Kobe Bryant in Calabasas, California, U.S., January 27, 2020. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok/File Photo SEARCH “1ST ANNIVERSARY OF KOBE BRYANT’S DEATH” FOR THE PHOTOS. Kobe Bryant’s Lakers jerseys are displayed during the “Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant” service at Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles on February 24, 2020. – Kobe Bryant, 41, and 13-year-old Gianna were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in the rugged hills west of Los Angeles on January 26. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images) A man writes a message on the pavement near a makeshift memorial as fans gather to mourn the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who was killed along with his daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash on January 26, at LA Live plaza in front of Staples Center in Los Angeles on January 27, 2020. – Federal investigators sifted through the wreckage of the helicopter crash that killed basketball legend Kobe Bryant and eight other people, hoping to find clues to what caused the accident that stunned the world. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images) TOPSHOT – People gather around a makeshift memorial for former NBA and Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant after learning of his death, at LA Live plaza in front of Staples Center in Los Angeles on January 26, 2020. – Nine people were killed in the helicopter crash which claimed the life of NBA star Kobe Bryant and his 13 year old daughter, Los Angeles officials confirmed on Sunday. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said eight passengers and the pilot of the aircraft died in the accident. The helicopter crashed in foggy weather in the Los Angeles suburb of Calabasas. Authorities said firefighters received a call shortly at 9:47 am about the crash, which caused a brush fire on a hillside. (Photo by Apu GOMES / AFP) (Photo by APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images) LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 13: A mural depicting deceased NBA star Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, painted by @sloe_motions, is displayed on a building on February 13, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. Numerous murals depicting Bryant and Gianna have been created around greater Los Angeles following their tragic deaths in a helicopter crash which left a total of nine dead. A public memorial service honoring Bryant will be held February 24 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where Bryant played most of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) FILE – In this Jan. 26, 2020, file photo, firefighters work the scene of a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif. Federal safety officials are expected to vote Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, on what likely caused the helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others to crash into a Southern California hillside last year, killing all aboard. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File) FILE – In this July 26, 2018, file photo, former Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna watch the U.S. national championships swimming meet in Irvine, Calif. Federal safety officials are expected to vote Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, on what likely caused the helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others to crash into a Southern California hillside last year, killing all aboard. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, file) FILE – In this Feb. 24, 2020, file photo, Vanessa Bryant speaks during a celebration of life for her husband, Kobe Bryant, and daughter Gianna in Los Angeles. Los Angeles County is seeking to compel psychiatric evaluations for Kobe Bryant’s widow and others to determine if they truly suffered emotional distress after first responders took and shared graphic photos from the site of the helicopter crash that killed the basketball star, his teenage daughter and seven others in 2020, court documents say. Vanessa Bryant, whose federal lawsuit against Los Angeles County alleges invasion of privacy, has claimed in court papers that she has suffered “severe emotional distress” that has compounded the trauma of losing her husband and 13-year-old daughter. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File) UNCASVILLE, CONNECTICUT – MAY 15: Vanessa Bryant speaks on behalf of Class of 2020 inductee, Kobe Bryant alongside presenter Michael Jordan during the 2021 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Mohegan Sun Arena on May 15, 2021 in Uncasville, Connecticut. Kobe Bryant tragically died in a California helicopter crash on Jan 26, 2020. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 24: Christina Aguilera performs during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 24: Michael Jordan speaks during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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.