Jae C. Hong/AP
LOS ANGELES – Vanessa Bryant testified Friday that she was only beginning to mourn the loss of her husband, basketball star Kobe Bryant, and their 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, when she was confronted with the new horror to learn that sheriff’s deputies and firefighters had filmed and shared photos of their bodies at the site of the helicopter crash that killed them.
“I felt like I wanted to run, run down the block and scream,” she said, her tears turning to sobs and her voice quickening. “It was like the feeling of wanting to roll down a pier and jump into the water. The problem is, I can’t escape. I can’t escape from my body.”
During her three hours on the witness stand in federal court in Los Angeles, where she is suing LA County for invasion of privacy over the photos, Bryant said she fought for memorials public and private for her loved ones and seven others who was killed on January 26, 2020 and thought she was ready to really begin the grieving process about a month later. She was with friends and her surviving daughters, and holding her 7-month-old baby, when she received a call about a Los Angeles Times article about crash site photos.
“I rushed out of the house and to the side so my daughters couldn’t see,” she said. “I was caught off guard again, devastated, hurt. I trusted them. I trusted them not to do these things.”
Evidence presented at trial showed a sheriff’s deputy showed a photo of Bryant’s body to a bartender while he was drinking, prompting a formal complaint from another man drinking nearby, and firefighters shared them. at an awards banquet. Others shared them with their spouses. A county attorney said the photos were taken only because they were essential to assess the site moments after the crash, and when Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva learned they were shared, he demanded that they all be removed.
No photos have appeared publicly, but Vanessa Bryant said she constantly fears that some still are.
“I live in fear every day of being on social networks and that these appear”, she testified. “I live in fear that my daughters will be on social media and these will show up.”
She said the thought kept her awake at night as she lay next to her 3-year-old and her 5-year-old, and sometimes led to panic attacks in which she couldn’t breathe.
Cross-examined by J. Mira Hashmall, the attorney representing LA County at trial, Bryant testified that she had no medical diagnoses of panic attacks or mental disorders, and that she had no took no medicine for them.
She said she spoke to a therapist for about 18 months after the accident, but hasn’t since.
“I feel like sometimes it helps,” Bryant said, “but sometimes it’s completely exhausting.”
Hashmall spent much of his 90-minute cross-examination going through the business roles Bryant now plays, including as president of her husband’s media company, Granity Studios, overseeing the publication of a book he wrote and helping to complete and publish another, leading the foundation started for Kobe and Gianna and created several other companies.
Hashmall suggested that Bryant’s ability to do all of this meant she was functioning well and not being overwhelmed by fear and anxiety.
“It sounds like on top of everything else, you’re juggling a business empire,” Hashmall said at one point.
“To me, it’s a labor of love,” said Bryant, who remained calm and composed during cross-examination.
She frequently cried and sometimes laughed during questioning by her lawyer Luis Li, who had her describe her life with her “proud daughter-daddy” husband and their daughters.
“He was such a handsome and devoted father,” she said.
Bryant recounted the day of the crash, her anguish and frustration trying to find out if her husband and daughter were still alive after initially hearing from an aide that there were five survivors.
She described Sheriff Villanueva entering a room where she was waiting at the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station and confirming that her husband and daughter had been killed. He asked if he could do anything for her.
“I told him, if you can’t get my babies back, then please secure the area,” Bryant said. “I worry about the paparazzi.”
“Did the sheriff tell you that one of his deputies had already been up on the hill to take close-up pictures of the crash victims?” Li asked.
“No,” Bryant replied.
During cross-examination, Hashmall testified that the deputy, Doug Johnson, who hiked rough terrain in the hills of northern Los Angeles County to the crash site and took the photos that later been shared, was only trying to use them to assess the situation.
“You can understand why he would want the same information as you,” Hashmall said.
“I don’t think you need to take close-up photos of people to figure out how many people are on a plane,” Bryant replied. “I think he could have counted.”
Bryant’s side closed their case after her testimony, which took place on the eighth day of the trial.