How Vanessa Bryant won a stunning legal victory involving gruesome Kobe crash photos

In February 2020, the Los Angeles Times reported that Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies had shared graphic photos of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others.

The revelation triggered a major scandal at the Sheriff’s Department that culminated Wednesday, when a jury ordered Los Angeles County to pay Vanessa Bryant, widow of Lakers star Kobe Bryant, and another man $31 million in damages.

The trial marked the culmination of an intensely personal, two-year legal fight for Vanessa Bryant and Chris Chester, who lost his daughter and wife in the crash. Bryant often expressed outrage over the conduct of deputies.

On the witness stand last week, Bryant said she had been watching TV with family at home when she learned that Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies had shared gruesome photos of the helicopter crash that killed her husband and the couple’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.

Portrait illustration of Kobe and Gianna Bryant with a wall of fan messages around them.

Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, marks the one-year anniversary of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe and Gianna Bryant and seven others.

(Constance Brantley / For The Times)

“I bolted out of the house,” Vanessa Bryant testified Friday in federal court in Los Angeles. Once she found a spot where her other three daughters could not hear her, she said, “I broke down and cried, and I wanted to run down the block and just scream.”

Bryant said she felt betrayed by deputies she had trusted to protect her family.

“I expected them to have more compassion — respect,” Bryant testified. “My husband and my daughter deserve dignity.”

During the trial, her lawyers documented how the photos had spread from the phones of deputies and firefighters at the crash scene on a steep hillside in Calabasas: They were flashed from a sheriff’s deputy’s phone screen to a bartender in Norwalk. They were shown to firefighters and their spouses during an awards gala at a hotel in Universal City in what amounted, one witness said, to a “party trick.” They were passed from one deputy to another as the pair played video games.

After the verdict, Vanessa Bryant posted a photo on Instagram of her, Kobe and Gigi with the caption: “All for you! I love you. JUSTICE for Kobe and Gigi.”

Here is a summary of The Times reporting on the crash photo scandal:

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