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A lawyer for Vanessa Bryant told Los Angeles jurors Wednesday that gruesome photos of her husband Kobe Bryant’s remains were shared by first responders as “visual gossip” with nearly 30 people – including at a bar and in a video game chat.
The basketball legend’s widow is suing the county for invasion of privacy in U.S. District Court after a fire captain and deputy snapped the cellphone pictures at the site of a helicopter crash that killed Bryant, the couple’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others in Calabasas, California, on Jan. 26, 2020.
Vanessa Bryant wept openly and dabbed her eyes during her lawyer’s opening statement.
“They were shared by deputies playing video games,” the widow’s attorney Luis Li told jurors. “They were shared repeatedly with people who had absolutely no reason to receive them.”
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The day the Lakers star and their daughter perished in the fiery crash west of Los Angeles was the worst moment of Vanessa Bryant’s life, the attorney said.
“The county made it much worse. They poured salt in an open wound and rubbed it in,” he said.
Vanessa Bryant learned of the grisly photos about a month after the tragedy through a Los Angeles Times article.
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Jurors were shown surveillance footage of an off-duty sheriff’s deputy at a bar pulling up the graphic photos on his cellphone and showing them to the bartender, who shook his head in shock.
Firefighters gawked at the photos at an awards banquet two weeks later, and a deputy shared an image with a colleague while the men played the video game “Call of Duty,” Li said.
The lawyer presented a chart showing the dissemination of the images to more than two dozen people. Authorities failed to launch a proper investigation and the families will never know the true extent of the privacy breach, the attorney argued.
“She will be haunted by what they did forever,” Li said, adding that Vanessa Bryant lives in fear that one day the disturbing images will surface online and her surviving children may see them.
An attorney for the county, J. Mira Hashmall, said “site photography is essential” and snapping the photos at the scene was appropriate. But she conceded that sharing the photos was a lapse in judgment.
Hashmall said that Sheriff Alex Villaneuva ordered his deputies to delete all the photos immediately to ensure they didn’t end up in the public sphere — a decision that has been widely criticized by legal experts who say he was required to preserve them and launch an official probe.
“They’re not online. They’re not in the media. They’ve never even been seen by the plaintiffs themselves,” Hashmall said. “That is not an accident. That is a function of how diligent they were.”
Chris Chester, whose wife and daughter died in the crash, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit that seeks unspecified damages in the millions.
The 18-time All-Star and his daughter Gianna, along with the other passengers, were flying to a girls basketball tournament when the chartered helicopter crashed in the fog.
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Kobe Bryant, who was 41, won five NBA championships and was elected to the Hall of Fame the same year he died. The couple have three surviving daughters.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.