UPDATE: A judge has denied Los Angeles County's request to dismiss Vanessa Bryant's lawsuit over leaked photos of her husband Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna Bryant's fatal helicopter crash site.
According to court documents obtained by E! News, a judge ruled that "there are genuine issues of material facts for trial."
Attorneys for Los Angeles County said that they "respectfully disagree" with the ruling. "The fact remains that the County did not cause Ms. Bryant's loss and, as was promised on the day of the crash, none of the County's accident site photos were ever publicly disseminated," Skip Miller, partner at the Miller Barondess law firm and outside counsel for L.A. County, said in a statement to E! News. "The County did its job and looks forward to showing that at trial."
Vanessa's attorney, however, sees things differently. "This has always been about accountability," Luis Li said. "We look forward to presenting the facts to a jury."
In court documents filed by Vanessa's attorney and obtained by E! News, the widow recalls reading a Los Angeles Times report that revealed that firefighters and "members of the Sheriff's Department had taken and shared improper photos of the crash victims' remains." Vanessa adds that the images "became a source of gossip" in the two departments.
"This conduct has caused me tremendous pain and distress," she explains. "It infuriates me that the people I trusted to protect the dignity of my husband and daughter abused their positions to obtain souvenirs of their deaths, as though possessing pictures of their remains somehow makes them special."
In the documents, which were filed as an opposition to the county's request to dismiss the case, the mother of four says she gets "overcome with anger and emotion" when she thinks of how Kobe would've reacted, saying, "He never would have let this happen and the wrongdoers never would have dared doing what they did, and I feel it's now my job to protect them by demanding accountability for the people who violated him and our little girl."
Vanessa says she also fears that she and her daughters, Natalia, 18, Bianka, 5, and Capri, 2, will one day "be confronted online with the deputies' or firefighters' stash of photos."
"I don't know how me and my daughters would cope," Vanessa shares. "One day, such as when my girls are assigned to research their family tree for a school project, I do not want them searching my husband's and daughter's names to discover photos of their remains."
In light of modern technology and Sheriff Alex Villanueva's alleged mishandling of the incident, Vanessa says, "I do not believe all copies of the photos have been secured."
"These deputies and firefighters took the worst thing that has ever happened to me—the worst thing that could happen to any mother or spouse—and made it worse," Vanessa continues. "For the rest of my life, one of two things will happen: either close-up photos of my husband's and daughter's bodies will go viral online, or I will continue to live in fear of that happening."
In response to Vanessa's opposition filing, Skip Miller, partner at the Miller Barondess law firm and outside counsel for L.A. County issued the following statement: "While the County sympathizes with Ms. Bryant's tragic loss, it did not cause the crash that claimed the lives of her husband and child. Rather, it responded to that crash and, at her specific request, set up a no-fly zone, undertook extensive efforts to keep the public and paparazzi away, and made sure none of the investigative photos were ever publicly disseminated. The County did its job and believes there is no merit to this lawsuit."
In court documents filed by Vanessa's legal team and obtained by E! News in September 2020, Vanessa claimed "no fewer than eight sheriff's deputies at the crash site" took photos of the deceased.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, including punitive damages.
In a March 2020 interview with Today, Villanueva confirmed that a deputy trainee took photos at the crash site and said an investigation was underway, adding, "To be betrayed by one of our own is disheartening."
The LASD then issued a separate statement after Vanessa amended her complaint in September. "Shortly following this tragic crash, Sheriff Villanueva sponsored legislation which now makes it a crime for public safety personnel to take or share non-official pictures of this nature," the statement, issued Sept. 22, 2020, read. "As a result of the swift actions we took under extraordinary circumstances, no pictures made it into the public arena. We continue to offer our heartfelt sympathies for the victims and their families."
Originally published Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021 at 3:18 p.m. PST