Trial Begins over the Photos of Kobe Bryant’s Helicopter Crash and its handling by LA County

FILE - A body is covered, left, while another is seen at right at the scene of a helicopter crash that killed former NBA basketball player Kobe Bryant and eight others in Calabasas, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. California legislation prompted by the that killed Bryant and eight others would make it a misdemeanor for first responders to take unauthorized photos of deceased people at the scene of an accident or crime. The bill sponsored by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department was approved by the state Assembly and Senate and was sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom for consideration, its author, Assemblyman Mike A. Gipson, said Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

According to Vanessa Bryant’s attorney, a Los Angeles County employee’s actions in taking and sharing images of Kobe Bryant’s body “poured salt in an unhealable wound.” Photos were taken after the 2020 helicopter crash that killed him, his daughter Gianna, and seven other people, she told a jury on Wednesday.

According to lawyer Luis Li, the images were distributed “for laugh. They were like souvenirs.” He claimed that Vanessa Bryant will be “haunted by what they did forever.”

The federal civil trial’s opening statement marked the beginning of the case brought by Bryant and Christopher Chester, whose wife and daughter also perished in the helicopter crash. A sheriff’s deputy and a LA County firefighter captured pictures of the bodies after the incident on January 26, 2020.

The pictures went across the departments after they were sent by both parties to their coworkers. One complaint was filed after a sheriff’s deputy showed one of the pictures to a bartender. While the other was made after a LA County Fire public information officer showed one of the pictures to a group of firefighters and their wives at an awards ceremony.

The images were soon removed, and they were never posted anywhere else or online. The plaintiffs’ and county’s explanations for why the images were taken are completely at odds with one another. Jerome Jackson, Li and Chester’s attorney, claimed the images were a form of horrid digital gossip. It was a continuation of a long-standing practice among law enforcement that has gotten out of control.

However, Mira Hashmall, the LA County’s attorney, informed the jury that taking pictures of the accident scene was a standard procedure first responders follow after any transportation accident involving a car, plane, or helicopter that results in a fatality or significant injury.

To preserve a record of a crime scene, or what may be a crime scene that could be disturbed, as was possible in this case since the helicopter crash ignited a brush fire in the Santa Monica Mountains, she said, “Site photography is vital.” The images are occasionally used to identify victims. “First responders are trained to take pictures to record the scene at an accident or crime scene.”

Dispute over Photos being wiped clean

The reasons for destroying the images and for wiping clean several of the officials’ phones after the news broke in the media are also disputed by the two sides. The deletion of the images and phone records, according to Chester and Bryant’s attorneys, amounted to a cover-up and the erasure of evidence by a sheriff’s department that is frequently at the center of controversy.

Meanwhile, the county’s attorney claimed that the images were removed from circulation in order to protect Bryant and Chester.

“There are no county photos anywhere,” said Hashmall. “That is not an accident. It’s a function of how diligently the county worked to contain them.”

The fact that the case went to trial is a bit surprising. U.S. District Judge John Walter urged the parties to reach an agreement in February. According to him, the jury can only award monetary damages; any punitive damages would only apply to specific, salaried county employees and would not be significant.

Noah Davis
Former Collegiate Basketball Player Currently working as a sports writer sports enthusiast and Basketball lover

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