A timeline of Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit against Los Angeles County

Vanessa Bryant, the widow of Kobe Bryant, leaves a federal courthouse in Los Angeles at the start of her lawsuit against county officials over photos taken at her husband's crash scene.
Vanessa Bryant, the widow of Kobe Bryant, leaves a federal courthouse in Los Angeles at the start of her lawsuit against county officials over photos taken at her husband's crash scene. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

Vanessa Bryant has sued Los Angeles County over photos of the 2020 helicopter crash that claimed the lives of her husband, NBA legend Kobe Bryant, and their 13-year-old daughter. The trial began last week.

Here’s a timeline of the lawsuit.

Jan. 26, 2020

Retired NBA star Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven other people die when the helicopter they are flying in crashes into a hillside in Calabasas, Calif. The National Transportation Safety Board eventually rules that the pilot of the helicopter probably became disoriented after flying into thick clouds, losing control of the aircraft and causing it to smash into the hillside.

Feb. 24, 2020

Vanessa Bryant files a wrongful-death lawsuit against the helicopter company that was hired to transport her husband’s group and the estate of the pilot, Ara Zobayan. Bryant and the families of the other six crash victims settle the lawsuit in June 2021, reaching a confidential agreement.

March 2, 2020

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announces that at least eight deputies took or shared graphic photos of the crash scene but also says he ordered them deleted. Villanueva adds that the deputies would be facing an investigation and possible disciplinary action, though he did not specify what that would entail.

Days after the crash, a bartender in Norwalk, Calif., filed a complaint with the sheriff’s department after overhearing a Los Angeles County sheriff’s trainee “bragging about how he had been at the crash site,” as he allegedly tried to use the crash photos to impress a woman at the bar.

Sept. 22, 2020

Citing emotional distress, Vanessa Bryant and another family involved in the crash file a lawsuit against Villanueva, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Los Angeles County over the photos taken by deputies.

The lawsuit states that Villanueva “did not conduct a standard investigation or collect, inspect or search the offending deputies’ cellphones to determine how many existed, whether and how they had been transmitted or whether they were stored” on the internet.

Sept. 28, 2020

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signs a bill that makes sharing a photo of a body from a crime scene or an autopsy “for any purpose other than an official law enforcement purpose” illegal and punishable by a $1,000 fine. Previously, California first responders were not legally prohibited from sharing such photos.

Oct. 18, 2021

Attorneys for Los Angeles County ask a judge to compel Vanessa Bryant and the other family members involved in the lawsuit to take psychiatric exams before the case goes to trial. The county argues that the exams are necessary to determine whether the emotional distress suffered by Bryant and the others were caused by the leak of the photos or the helicopter crash itself. It also argues that the plaintiffs “cannot be suffering distress from accident site photos that they have never seen and that were never publicly disseminated.”

A magistrate judge rejects the county’s request on Nov. 1, saying it was made after the Oct. 4 deadline for expert reports that was set by the trial judge.

Nov. 2, 2021

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors votes to approve a $2.5 million settlement for two families who separately sued the county over the crash-scene photos. The county says it already had paid considerable legal fees to fight the two lawsuits: $1.29 million, which would be taken out of the sheriff and fire department budgets.

Nov. 23, 2021

Lawyers for Los Angeles County petition a judge to have Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit dismissed, arguing that the crash-scene photos never have been made public, that the public will never see them and that Bryant’s emotional-distress lawsuit involves only “hypothetical harm.”

Jan. 6, 2022

U.S. District Judge John F. Walter denies the county’s petition to have the lawsuit dismissed, ruling that “there are genuine issues of material facts for trial.”

Aug. 10, 2022

In his opening statement, Bryant attorney Luis Li says the cellphone photos shot at the crash scene by a deputy and a fire captain were “visual gossip” viewed “for a laugh,” with no official purpose.

In security-camera video presented by Li, an off-duty sheriff’s deputy who was drinking at a bar shows the photos to the bartender, who shakes his head in dismay. The lawyer then showed an image of the men laughing together later. Li described firefighters looking at the phone photos two weeks later at an awards banquet, and showed the jury an animated chart documenting their spread to nearly 30 people.

County lawyer J. Mira Hashmall counters that the photos never have appeared publicly, that the Sheriff’s Department acted quickly and decisively to prevent their further dissemination and that the photos were part of necessary accident site photography.

Aug. 11, 2022

Capt. Emily Tauscher, the head of investigations at the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, gives graphic testimony about the post-crash condition of each victim’s body so that jurors would have a mental image of what the photos would show. She also says her office took about 1,250 photos of the crash site, about 300 of which were of human remains, and that her office never requested that either the sheriff’s department or fire department take photos of the remains.

In earlier testimony, the leader of a sheriff department search and rescue team said that Deputy Doug Johnson had alone taken hundreds of crash-scene photos with his cellphone.

Aug. 12, 2022

Adam Bercovici, a retired lieutenant for the Los Angeles Police Department who now works as a consultant, testifies that police officers and sheriff’s deputies in Southern California often pass around “ghoul books” with graphic photos of dead celebrities and other high-profile victims. Bercovici testifies that he was shown a Polaroid of Nicole Brown Simpson’s nearly decapitated corpse while on the job in the 1990s.

“These death books are widely spread and well-known. Officers keep them as souvenirs and they have no investigative value,” he said.

In a 2020 Los Angeles Times interview that was played for jurors in the Bryant case, Villanueva said that “every police department struggles with the same thing where people take photos, and they’re not evidence.”

Aug. 15, 2022

Brian Jordan, a former Los Angeles County fire captain who took photos at the crash site, walks off the witness stand three times during questioning from Bryant’s lawyer, saying he’s still traumatized by the crash.

Jordan, now retired, also testifies that he didn’t remember even being at the crash scene, which contradicts testimony he gave at an earlier deposition at which he said he remembered walking amid the crash scene.

A colleague of Jordan’s, Tony Imbrenda, earlier had testified that Jordan had sent him photos of the crash scene and that he had showed those photos to other firefighters at a gala event. Jordan testified that the photos he had sent to Imbrenda “were not pictures of people” and that any graphic photos of the crash site Imbrenda received were “not from me.”

Jordan testifies that he had surrendered his work phone, iPad and laptop to county investigators who looked into the sharing of the crash photos, but said he had “no clue” why the laptop’s hard drive had gone missing.

Later, a sheriff deputy trainee who received the photos and showed them to a bartender friend admits that there was no reason he ever should have even received the photos and that he “took it too far” when he showed them to the bartender.

“He’s a close friend that I vent to,” Deputy Joey Cruz said. “I took it too far, something I shouldn’t have done.”

Aug. 19, 2022

Bryant takes the witness stand in a Los Angeles courtroom and describes the panic attacks and anguish she’s suffered since learning of the photos — taken by and shared among authorities — of the helicopter crash that killed her husband, her daughter and seven others.

During Bryant’s testimony, the emotional climax of a legal saga that’s played out since the crash occurred in January 2020, she says, “I want to remember my husband and my daughter the way they were. I don’t ever want to see these photographs shared or viewed.”

Aug. 24, 2022

Bryant is awarded $16 million after a federal jury finds that Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and fire officials had violated the civil rights of the victims of the helicopter crash. The jury also orders that the county pay Chris Chester, Bryant’s fellow plaintiff in the suit whose wife, Sarah, and daughter, Payton, also were killed in the crash, $15 million.

Gus Garcia-Roberts in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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