Graphic photos showing the bodies of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, just hours after they were killed in a helicopter crash, were passed around by at least 28 police officers and at least a dozen firefighters in bars and at a media awards gala, new court filings claim.
The claims were made in new court documents filed by lawyers for Vanessa Bryant on Thursday ahead of a trial where she is seeking damages from Los Angeles County for invasion of privacy over the sharing of the graphic photos.
The photos were taken by police officers and firefighters at the site of the helicopter crash in Calabasas where Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven others died in January 2020.
In the new documents filed on Thursday, Vanessa’s attorney Luis Li wrote that pretrial evidence, ‘has shown that the close-up photos of Gianna and Kobe’s remains were passed around on at least 28 sheriff’s department devices and by at least a dozen firefighters, and shown off in bars and at an awards gala’.
Li also alleged that Los Angeles County officials ‘engaged in a coverup, destroying the direct forensic evidence of their misconduct and requiring extensive circumstantial evidence to establish the full extent of that misconduct.’
Los Angeles County has previously defended itself by saying that the photos were not posted online or seen by the public aside from in a bar two days after the crash. In that incident, a bartender told a patron that an officer had just shown him the photos. That patron laid a complaint with the LA County Sheriff’s office.
In the new documents filed, Vanessa’s attorney states that a private citizen attending the 2020 Golden Mike Awards – a broadcast television awards night held less than a month after the crash – witnessed LA County Fire Department Public Information Officer Tony Imbrenda talking about the photos and showing them to others.
It’s not clear who he showed the photos to. Officials later said the photos were deleted, and the witness did not see the photos for herself. The new documents also reveal details that the photos were shown in at least two bars in the days following the crash. A bartender in Norwalk, California stated a Los Angeles police officer showed him the photos at the bar.
A bartender in Bellflower, California, stated they spoke to a patron who relayed graphic details after observing photos of the victims’ remains from a friend in law enforcement who had been stationed at the crash scene to provide security and keep coyotes away from the bodies.
Vanessa has previously said that the photos showing the death of her husband and daughter were ‘out there’ caused her ‘constant fear and anxiety,’ and that she was having trouble sleeping and was depressed as a result. She says she has been contacted by internet creeps telling her they’ll share the gruesome photos online, although those threats have yet to come to fruition.
Vanessa also said she has seen one photo of her husband’s body, and that it sickens her to see ‘Kobe Bryant body’ pop up as a suggested search on Google when she types her late husband’s name into the search bar. Six of the couple’s family friends and the chopper pilot also died in the smash.
She was forced to detail her anxiety in a declaration filed with LA County. In documents seen by TMZ, Bryant details how she asked Sheriff Alex Villanueva on the day of the crash, January 26, 2020, to secure the crash site and not allow anyone to take photographs after learning there were no survivors.
But just one month later, she learned Sheriff’s deputies and firefighters were indeed passing around photos that had been taken of Kobe and Gianna’s remains.
Vanessa said finding out the information sent her into a cycle of distress, worrying they would be leaked online. Los Angeles County has said that that they have a witness who will testify in next month’s trial that it is a well-known practice with law enforcement in Southern California to share photos of human remains.
The county tried to get Bryant’s lawsuit thrown out, but earlier this month, U.S. District Judge John F. Walter rejected the motion and determined that ‘there are genuine issues of material fact for trial.’
The case will proceed to trial on February 22. It’s expected to last about 15 days and will include 40 witnesses for Bryant, according to court documents. The case is ‘considerably more complex than anticipated,’ Vanessa’s attorney said in a statement included in the court documents.
In order to speed up the trial, the county wants the issue of whether the photos were publicly disseminated decided in a two-part proceeding, stating because the photos were not, this would save time
‘Defendants will show that no photos have been posted on the internet, released in the media, or otherwise publicly disseminated,’ the county stated in court documents filed Thursday. ‘If Plaintiff cannot prove otherwise on this threshold issue, there is no need to waste weeks of the Court, jury, and parties’ time with the numerous other complex issues raised by Plaintiff’s claims.’
Vanessa opposed this request and plans to call witnesses to show the jury how the issue of the photos led to emotional distress and the reason for seeking damages.
Her witness list includes Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, Kobe Bryant’s sister Sharia Washington and Catherine Gasol, wife of Kobe Bryant’s former Lakers teammate Pau Gasol.
The county noted in response that the witnesses listed will testify that they never saw photos of human remains at the crash site and that Vanessa had never told them she had seen crash site photos that she can trace to the county officials.
Two other families who lost loved ones in the same crash have agreed to accept $1.25 million payments from Los Angeles County to end similar lawsuits, USA Today reported.