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

County lawyers argue that because the photos didn't reach the general public, any harm Bryant suffered has been "hypothetical."
Vanessa Bryant attends the game between the Los Angeles Lakers vs. the Indiana Pacers at Staples Center on Nov. 29, 2015, in Los Angeles.
Vanessa Bryant at a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Indiana Pacers at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Nov. 29, 2015.John Salangsang / Invision/AP file

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

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

Also in the wreckage from the crash in Calabasas, California, in January 2020 were the remains of the Bryants' daughter Gianna, 13.

The suit claims that "gratuitous photos of the dead children, parents and coaches" were shared. The county does not dispute that personnel showed the photos to other people, but its lawyers argue that they were shown mostly 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, Sheriff Alex Villanueva ordered deputies to delete any crash site images they had on their cellphones.

County lawyers said supervisors took "appropriate action" after they learned 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.

Eick ordered Villanueva and Fire Chief Daryl Osby to give depositions last month because, he wrote, they appear to have "unique first-hand, non-repetitive knowledge" that is relevant.

The helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020, killed all onboard: two of Gianna’s 13-year-old basketball teammates, Payton Chester and Alyssa Altobelli; Payton’s mother, Sarah; Alyssa’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 Kobe 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 likely to have been a cause.