Why is Lakers legend Kobe Bryant’s wife suing Los Angeles County?

·3 min read

Vanessa Bryant, the wife of the late Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, has appeared in court for the beginning of a trial against Los Angeles County.

Los Angeles County deputies and firefighters have been accused by Ms Bryant of wrongdoing over their response to the deadly helicopter crash that killed her husband and 13-year-old daughter Gianna in 2020.

Wiping away tears on Wednesday, the late NBA star’s wife told a Los Angeles court that pictures were taken of the crash site and shared between unauthorised people "for a laugh", in what her lawyers have called an invasion of privacy.

With the trial set to continue, here is everything you need to know:

What happened in the helicopter crash that killed Bryant?

On 26 January 2020, the 41-year-old NBA star was killed along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna when their chartered helicopter crashed in the Calabasas hills west of Los Angeles.

Weather conditions were foggy when the crash occurred and safety officials afterwards blamed pilot error. Seven others were killed in the crash, including the pilot.

The helicopter had been en route to a girl’s basketball tournament.

Who is involved in the case?

Ms Bryant brought the invasion of privacy case against Los Angeles County along with Chris Chester, the husband and father of two other helicopter crash victims, the Associated Press reported.

The lawsuit, which was filed in September 2020, seeks unspecified millions in damages from the county, which has already agreed to pay $2.5m in a similar case brought by two families of victims who died in the helicopter crash.

On Wednesday, a jury was chosen in the case, which, according to CNN, included six women and four men, whose backgrounds include a nun, a restaurant host, and a TV news producer.

The trial is expected to last two weeks, with opening arguments laid out by both sides on the first day.

What are county officials accused of?

Ms Bryant has accused deputies and firefighters of taking pictures of the crash scene and her dead husband’s corpse on their mobile phones, which she alleges were shared amongst county officials for no official purpose, reported The Guardian.

Because Ms Bryant learnt about the photos a month later via reporting in the Los Angeles Times, her lawyer Luis Li said her suffering was compounded.

Speaking on Wednesday at the beginning of the trial, Mr Li said the pictures were taken and shared "for a laugh" and had been "shared by deputies playing video games”.

"They were shared repeatedly with people who had absolutely no reason to receive them,” said Mr Li, who cited CCTV footage allegedly showing an off-duty sheriff’s deputy sharing images with a barman, who allegedly shook his head in dismay.

What has Los Angeles County said?

A lawyer for the county, Jennifer Mira Hashmall, said during her opening statement that “Site photography is essential” and denied claims that images of the helicopter crash site were taken for entertainment or personal use.

“They’re not online. They’re not in the media. They’ve never even been seen by the plaintiffs themselves,” said Ms Hashmall. “That is not an accident. That is a function of how diligent they were.”

She added that Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva had ordered the pictures to be deleted immediately instead of conducting a months-long probe that could have worsened the situation for families of the crash victims.

Citing he off-duty deputy scene sharing images in a bar, Ms Hashmall admitted “that should not have happened” and added: "In a lapse, in a moment of weakness, he showed those photos, and he has regretted it every day of his life."

"There is no doubt these families have suffered," she told the court. "It’s unspeakable. But this case is not about the loss from the crash. It’s about the pictures."

Additional reporting by the Associated Press