Vanessa Bryant, widow of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, broke down at times on Friday as she testified that she suffered panic attacks and anxiety about seeing pictures of the 2020 helicopter crash that killed her husbandtheir teenage daughter and seven others.
On the witness stand in her federal lawsuit against Los Angeles County, Vanessa Bryant recalled being at home with her family, breastfeeding her 7-month-old daughter Capri, when she learned of a Los Angeles Times report on county sheriff’s deputies sharing the graphic photos.
“I just remember not wanting to react because the girls were in the room,” she testified, her voice rising with emotion. “I said, ‘I can’t do this.’ …and I rushed out of the house and ran around the side of the house so the girls couldn’t see me. I wanted to run…in the block and just scream. I can’t escape my body. I can’t escape how I feel.
With Chris Chester, whose wife and daughter also died in the accident, Bryant has filed a federal civil lawsuit alleging that Los Angeles County invaded their privacy and inflicted emotional distress by failing to properly contain the release of the photos which, according to witness testimonies, not only show the wreckage of the helicopter, but the mutilated bodies of the victims.
Bryant admitted to being nervous on the stand and cried while talking about his late daughter Gianna. She had to pull herself together to describe the day it took to find Gianna’s body in the wreckage. She sobbed as she remembered going to a secure NTSB website to identify the victims’ clothing and other personal items.
Bryant recounted her post-crash interaction with Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who informed her that her husband and daughter had been killed. She sometimes broke down as she recalled the events.
“I’m sorry Mrs. Bryant. Can I do something for you? Bryant recalls Villanueva’s request.
“If you can’t bring my babies back, then please secure the area. I worry about the paparazzi,” she recalled telling him.
The sheriff assured him he would, but he stayed in the room, Bryant said. She urged him to leave and process his application immediately.
According to Bryant, Villanueva walked out and back, telling him he had been granted a temporary flight restriction over the area through the Federal Aviation Administration.
Bryant testified that she had to delete the comments from her Instagram feed after the images were distributed. His attorney Luis Li posted a comment sent to him shortly after the LA Times article was published.
“I’m going to scare Kobe’s body,” read the post, which included helicopter and fire emojis.
Defense attorneys, in court filings, said they plan to address Bryant’s own Instagram posts, including one from Halloween in which she is dressed as Cruella de Vil, a villain depicted in the Disney films.
“They say there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, negotiation, depression, and acceptance. Well, I’d like to add one more…revenge. – Cruella,” reads -on in the caption.
Li asked Bryant about the job. She testified that the costume choice was consistent with other Halloween outfits she’s worn, including the Wicked Witch from “The Wizard of Oz” and Darth Vader.
Bryant said she dresses up as bad characters to allow her daughters to be the good ones.
During cross-examination, the defense sought to show that Bryant had other sources of stress beyond the photo controversy, including a lawsuit filed against her by her mother. Bryant testified that his mother “thought she was entitled to the money.”
Defense attorney Mira Hashmall told Bryant that his mother “accused you of fraud…elder abuse, that must have been stressful.”
“It was definitely hurtful,” Bryant said, adding that she also felt betrayed.
“I’m sure it was stressful,” Hashmall asked.
“Yeah, it wasn’t easy,” Bryant replied, adding that the lawsuit was settled and it didn’t cause the kind of lasting fear she had from the crash scene photos surfacing. .
“It was a stress at the time, but my mom gave birth to me. She raised me. And like I said, it was resolved,” Bryant said of the lawsuit.
The defense asked Bryant if his goal was for the photos to never be seen – which LA County claims his actions were accomplished.
“I wish someone had collected all the photographs and investigated ‘who shared what,’ Bryant said.
The first defense witness, Sheriff Villanueva, testified to the need for due diligence in handling the leaked photos. He said opening a formal investigation would invoke union legal rules that could involve lawyers and delays and give more scope for the photos to be released.
“There’s a way to get them immediately,” Villanueva said, referring to the crash scene, so he devised what he called a “deal.”
Deputies involved in the leak would prove the photos were deleted and get a note about their conduct in a performance log, Villanueva said.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys have sought to show that the handling of the episode prevented Internal Affairs from later investigating alleged wrongdoing.
“You can’t have the responsibility and (also) risk the photos coming out,” Villanueva said. “And we picked the right one.”
Bryant had previously testified that she lived in fear because an official investigation could not confirm that all photos from the crash site had been accounted for and destroyed.
The trial has so far seen testimony from several members of law enforcement, including a deputy who testified to showing graphic images of the scene while at a bar, another deputy who said sharing photos while playing a video game, an MP who sent dozens of photos to someone he didn’t know, and a firefighter who showed the images to other staff at an awards cocktail party.
Chester, who along with Bryant filed the lawsuit, testified Thursday, saying he lived in fear that the graphic photos taken of the bodies of his loved ones might one day resurface.
Chester spoke after days of testimony from law enforcement officials – some of whom issued apologies, detailed the graphic nature of the photos and explained why they were taken and shared and why orders were issued for the to delete.
Bryant was in the courtroom to listen to the testimony of all witnesses except the coroner. She stormed out of the courtroom as a bartender testified that she had seen pictures.
Villanueva is expected to be followed on the stand by LA County Fire Chief Anthony Marrone.
Kobe Bryant, 41, and Gianna Bryant, 13, were among nine people killed in the January 26, 2020 helicopter crash on a hill in Calabasas, California.
They were flying to a women’s basketball game at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks when the helicopter crashed, leaving no survivors.