When Vanessa Bryant learned that Los Angeles County officials were privately sharing photos of her husband’s and daughter’s remains after they were killed in a helicopter crash in 2020, she said she wanted to “run down the block and scream.”
“It was like the feeling of wanting to run down a pier and jump into the water,” Bryant testified Friday in an LA federal courthouse. “The problem is I can’t escape. I can’t escape my body.”
Bryant testified for three hours on the witness stand Friday, the eighth day of her trial against LA County. In her lawsuit, she accuses deputies from the LA County sheriff's and fire departments of causing emotional distress, including negligence and invasion of privacy, for sharing images of her late husband Kobe Bryant, 41, and their 13-year-old daughter Gianna, after they were killed with seven others in a helicopter crash in January 2020.
The helicopter was en route to a girls basketball game at Kobe’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks; the pilot was trying to bring the aircraft above a fog-covered hill when it slammed into a hillside in Calabasas.
Bryant said that when she arrived at the sheriff’s station in Malibu that day, deputies “stared” at her.
“I walked in and asked where they were. I was repeatedly asking. They just stared at me,” she testified. ‘Where are they? Where are they?’”
She said when LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva met with her privately to confirm the deaths, he brought a publicist with him, whom she asked to leave.
During her testimony, Bryant, who was concerned about paparazzi, recalled specifically asking Villanueva, “If you can’t bring my husband and baby back, please make sure that no one takes photographs of them. Please secure the area. And he said, ‘I will.’ And I said, ‘No, I need you to get on the phone right now and I need you to make sure you secure the area.’”
But, weeks later, the LA Times reported that sheriff’s deputies had shared graphic photos from the crash site.
A patron at the Baja California Bar and Grill in Norwalk testified that a bartender relayed to him that a sheriff’s deputy had showed him graphic photos from the crash site. The patron, Raphael Mendez Jr., wrote in his formal complaint on the sheriff’s department website that the deputy was “showing photos of [Kobe Bryant’s] decapitated body.”
Mendez testified at the trial earlier this week, saying, “I was in disbelief. I was disappointed, disgusted, and angry.”
Bryant said she was with her daughters and holding her then-7-month-old baby Capri when she learned of the LA Times story.
“I bolted out of the house and around to the side so my girls wouldn't see,” Bryant testified Friday. “I was blindsided again, devastated, hurt. I trusted them. I trusted them not to do these things.”
“I expected them to have more compassion, respect,” she said. “My husband and my daughter deserve dignity.”
Villanueva, the county’s first witness, was brought to the stand after Bryant finished her testimony. The sheriff told deputies that if they deleted photos, they would not be disciplined. Bryant’s lawyers have argued the deletion of the images was part of a “cover-up.”
“I believe they were all deleted,” Villanueva testified under cross-examination Friday. Since photos haven't surfaced in the last two and a half years, he said, “I’m pretty sure that’s accurate.” He added, “God knows — that’s about it.”
The notion that these photos might leak online, and that they could be seen by her and Kobe’s three other daughters — Capri, 3; Bianka, 5; and Natalia, 19 — keeps her awake at night, Bryant told the court. Since learning of the photos, Bryant testified, she has had panic attacks.
“I live in fear every day of being on social media and having these photos pop up,” she said. “I live in fear of my daughters being on social media and these popping up."
Bryant filed a lawsuit against the county in September 2020. Christopher Chester, whose wife and daughter died in the helicopter crash, joined the lawsuit. The families of two other victims each received a $1.25 million settlement last year over the leaked images.
“I’m willing to go to hell and back to get justice for my family,” Bryant testified Friday.
Her lawyers rested their case after her testimony.