LOS ANGELES — In the aftermath of her husband’s death, Kobe Bryant’s widow repeatedly received disturbing images via social media of the helicopter crash that killed the NBA legend, their 13-year-old daughter and seven others, according to a transcript of Vanessa Bryant’s deposition in a lawsuit she brought against Los Angeles County.
The images were allegedly leaked by county employees and are the subject of a federal lawsuit filed last year by Vanessa Bryant against the county and several of its agencies.
Bryant, whose federal lawsuit alleges invasion of privacy, has claimed in court papers that she experienced “severe emotional distress” that compounded the trauma of losing her husband and daughter, Gianna. The lawsuit contends first responders, including firefighters and sheriff’s deputies, shared photographs of Kobe Bryant’s body with a bartender and passed around “gratuitous photos of the dead children, parents and coaches.”
“Nothing compares. Nothing's close to this. I lost my husband and child. That was the worst thing imaginable,” she said in the deposition, recorded via videoconference earlier this month.
Los Angeles County is seeking to compel psychiatric evaluations for Vanessa Bryant and others to determine if they truly suffered emotional distress. Bryant's lawyers argue in court filings that the examinations are “cruel” while the county contends they are “a routine part of the discovery process.”
In her deposition, Bryant revealed intimate and emotional details of the day her husband and child were killed, repeatedly pausing to regain composure or holding her hand up to the computer screen to block disturbing images of the crash site.
“I do not want my little girls or I to ever have to see their remains in that matter,” Bryant said in her deposition. “Nor do I think it's right that the photographs were taken in the first place because it's already tough enough that I have to experience this heartache and this loss. But now to live the rest of my life having to fear those photographs surfacing is something that I have to deal with every single day.”
According to Bryant, the morning of Jan. 26, 2020 started like any other for the parents of four.
Kobe Bryant flew from Orange County to Thousand Oaks in a helicopter with Gianna to her basketball game while Vanessa Bryant stayed home with their two youngest children. A fourth daughter was studying for her college entrance exams.
At 11:30 a.m., Vanessa Bryant learned from the family’s assistant that there had been a helicopter crash. Her life has not been the same since, she said.
“Grief isn't linear. Every day is different and I try my best to put a smile on my face for my little girls,” Bryant said. “I want them to live in the love and not in the loss. And I make a conscious effort to try to portray that everything's fine for them.”
Bryant initially thought her daughter and husband had merely been injured in a crash. She rushed to the airport in hopes of taking a helicopter to be with them but was told bad weather prohibited takeoff.
She then sat in a car for nearly two hours to drive from Orange County to Malibu, near the crash site. There, she waited until Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva personally delivered the heart-wrenching news.
According to her deposition, Bryant pleaded with Villanueva to ensure no one would take photographs from the crash. He reassured her that the area had been secured, court documents say.
After Villanueva confirmed her loved ones were killed, he asked Bryant if he could do anything for her.
“And I said: ‘If you can’t bring my husband and baby back, please make sure that no one takes photographs of them. Please secure the area,’” Bryant said during the deposition. “And he said: ‘I will.’ And I said: ‘No, I need you to get on the phone right now and I need you to make sure you secure the area.’”
Villanueva, she said, excused himself momentarily and reassured her the area had been secured when he came back.
Villanueva did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The embattled sheriff has been at the center of several scandals, including repeatedly refusing to enforce coronavirus mandates and allegations of fatal shootings, excessive force, deputy gangs, retaliation and other misconduct within the department.
Last week, the county said it filed a motion for Bryant to undergo an independent psychiatric evaluation to prove the leaked photos of the helicopter crash caused emotional distress. Independent exams are "necessary to evaluate the existence, extent and nature of Plaintiffs' alleged emotional injuries,” the county said in its filing.
Bryant's attorneys said the motion was part of the county's "scorched earth discovery tactics designed to bully Plaintiffs into abandoning their pursuit of accountability."
“I just don't understand how someone can have no regard for life and compassion, and, instead, choose to take that opportunity to photograph lifeless and helpless individuals for their own sick amusement,” Bryant said in her deposition.
“I want accountability,” she said.