Vanessa Byrant’s invasion of privacy lawsuit against the Los Angeles County sheriff’s and fire departments began Wednesday over explicit photos allegedly taken by first responders of her late husband Kobe Bryant’s fatal helicopter crash that killed the NBA legend, their daughter Giana, and seven others in January 2020.
Byrant’s lawsuit, which she filed in U.S. District Court in September 2020, centers around photos of the deceased that L.A. County authorities allegedly took and then shared at a bar and other public events. Byrant argues the invasion of privacy has caused emotional distress to the widow of one of the greatest basketball players in NBA history.
“Mrs. Bryant feels ill at the thought that sheriff’s deputies, firefighters, and members of the public have gawked at gratuitous images of her deceased husband and child,” according to the lawsuit, per Reuters. “She lives in fear that she or her children will one day confront horrific images of their loved ones online.”
TMZ reports Byrant broke into tears during her lawyer’s opening statements. Her lawyer said the eight L.A. County sheriff’s deputies who took the photos of the bodies of her late husband and child took the pictures “for a laugh like they were souvenirs,” adding it “poured salt in an unhealable wound.”
Bryant’s attorney said Bryant lives “in fear, anxiety, and terror,” and the sheriff’s actions will forever haunt her.
CNN reports the lawsuit seeks undisclosed damages, claiming civil rights violations, negligence, emotional distress, and violation of privacy.
However, L.A. county officials argued that Byrant’s “severe and emotional and mental injuries” came from the crash itself rather than the photos.
Rob Pelinka, general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, took the stand Wednesday and could barely speak about his relationship with his former employee and late friend, according to TMZ.
Pelinka said he received the news about Byrant’s helicopter crash while in church before leaving in a rush to meet Mrs. Byrant at John Wayne Airport, where they would fly to the crash site in Calabasas, California.
He said Byrant has fought to keep the photos private from the public eye to protect the impact it could have on her daughters.
Following the fatal accident, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an invasion-of-privacy bill called the “Kobe Bryant Act” in September 2020. The bill makes it illegal for first responders to share photos of a deceased body at a crime scene “for any other purpose other than official law enforcement purpose.”
Those found guilty of the misdemeanor crime could receive charges up to $1,000 per violation.
CNN reports the jury includes six women and four men — a nun, an NBC Universal employee, and a college student. Also seated on the jury are a real estate investor, a pharmaceutical researcher, a computer science professor, and a restaurant host.
Byrant’s trial could last about two weeks, which would likely include witness testimony from L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
Villanueva said two months after the crash that the eight sheriff’s deputies responsible for allegedly taking and sharing the photos faced administrative action and have since deleted the photos.