L.A. County wants Vanessa Bryant’s crash photos suit dismissed

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Lawyers for Los Angeles County on Monday asked the court to issue a summary judgment in Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit, which would lead to dismissal of her damage claim over photos taken at the helicopter crash site of her late husband, Kobe Bryant.

A hearing in the matter was scheduled for late next month. Bryant’s attorney, Luis Li, said by email that he had no comment. But he confirmed that her legal team planned to file a response in December.

The county’s motion, filed before federal magistrate Judge Charles F. Eick and U.S. District Judge John F. Walter, argues that because the photos were not shared with the general public, any harm Bryant suffered has been “hypothetical.”

“It is undisputed that the complained-of photos have never been in the media, on the Internet, or otherwise publicly disseminated,” county lawyers said in Monday’s documents. “Plaintiff Vanessa Bryant has never seen County photos of her family members. There is no … standing to sue for a hypothetical harm.” 

Bryant’s suit, the motion says, “Is without legal merit and should be dismissed.”

The claim filed last year in Los Angeles U.S. District Court says she experienced severe emotional distress and alleges invasion of privacy after L.A. County first responders, including fire department and sheriff’s employees, shared photographs of Kobe Bryant’s body.

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Also in the wreckage from the Calabasas, California crash in January 2020, were the remains of Bryant’s daughter, Gianna, 13.

The suit claims that “gratuitous photos of the dead children, parents and coaches” were shared. The county doesn’t dispute that personnel showed the photos to other individuals, but its lawyers argue that they were mostly shown to authorized personnel.

One of four deputies named as defendants, Joey Cruz, admitted in a memo submitted to the court that he showed crash site photos to a niece and to an employee of a bar.

Bryant’s lawsuit argued that the images were shared widely within the sheriff’s department. In March L.A. Sheriff Alex Villanueva ordered deputies to delete any crash site images they had on their cellphones.

County lawyers said supervisors took “appropriate action” after learning that the images had been shown to others. The disciplinary status of deputies named in the suit was unknown. The county fire department moved to terminate firefighters said to have shared the images.

Last month Eick ordered Villanueva and fire department Chief Daryl Osby to give depositions in the case because, he wrote, they appear to have “unique first-hand, non-repetitive knowledge” that is relevant.

The Jan. 26, 2020, helicopter crash killed all onboard: Two of Gianna’s 13-year-old basketball teammates, Payton Chester and Alyssa Altobelli; Chester’s mother, Sarah; Altobelli’s parents, coach John Altobelli and his wife, Keri; coach Christina Mauser, 38; and pilot Ara Zobayan.

The group was traveling from Santa Ana to Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, two counties away, for a basketball tournament when the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter they were in encountered a marine layer of clouds and ultimately slammed into a hillside.

The National Transportation Safety Board said in February that pilot disorientation was a likely cause of the crash.

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