Vanessa Bryant called to witness in suit over crash scene photos

On the witness stand in her federal lawsuit against Los Angeles County, Vanessa Bryant recalled being at home with her family and breastfeeding her 7-month-old daughter Capri, when she learned of a Los Angeles Times report on the county’s agents. sheriff who shared the graphic photos.

“I just remember not wanting to respond because the girls were in the room,” she testified, her voice raised with emotion. “I said, ‘I can’t do this.’ …And I shot out of the house and ran to the side of the house so the girls couldn’t see me I wanted to run… down the block and just scream I can’t escape my body I can’t escape to what I feel.”

Bryant admitted he was nervous in the stands and cried when he talked about her late daughter Gianna. She had to pull herself together as she described the day it took to find Gianna’s body in the wreckage. She sobbed as she recalled looking to a secure NTSB website to identify the victims’ clothing and other personal items.

Bryant talked about her interaction after the crash with Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who told her her husband and daughter had died. She broke down occasionally when recalling the events.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Bryant. Can I do something for you?’ Bryant remembered Villanueva’s question.

“If you can’t bring my babies back, please secure the area. I’m worried about paparazzi,” she recalled.

The sheriff assured her he would, but he stayed in the room, Bryant said. She urged him to leave and consider her request immediately.

Photos of Kobe Bryant crash scene were shared during cocktail hour awards ceremony, witness testifies

According to Bryant, Villanueva got out and returned, telling her that he had arranged a temporary flight restriction over the area through the Federal Aviation Administration.

Bryant testified that she had to remove comments from her Instagram feed after the images were circulated. Her attorney Luis Li showed a comment sent to her shortly after the LA Times story was published.

“I’m leaking Kobe’s body,” the message read, including helicopter and fire emojis.

Defense attorneys have indicated in court files that they plan to crack down on Bryant’s own Instagram posts, including one from Halloween in which she dressed as Cruella de Vil, a villain depicted in Disney movies.

“They say there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Well, I’d like to add one more… revenge. – Cruella,” the caption reads.

Li asked Bryant about the post. 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 the bad characters to let her girls be the good ones.

Sheriff testifies that he came up with a ‘bargain’ to get photos taken down

During the cross-examination, the defense tried to show that Bryant had sources of stress other than the photo controversy, including a lawsuit filed against her by her mother. Bryant testified that her mother “thought she was entitled to money.”

Attorney Mira Hashmall told Bryant that her mother “accused you of fraud…elder abuse, that must have been stressful.”

“It was absolutely painful,” Bryant said, adding that she also felt betrayed.

“I’m sure that 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 has from the crash scene photos that are surfacing.

“That was a stress at the time, but my mother gave birth to me. She raised me. And like I said, it’s resolved,” Bryant said of the lawsuit.

They reached Kobe Bryant's crash site, then set off a chain reaction that led to a macabre trial

The defense urged Bryant whether her goal was for the photos never to be seen — which LA County says her actions accomplished.

“I would have wanted someone to recover and examine all the photos,” Bryant said.

The defense’s first witness, Sheriff Villanueva, testified about the need for efficiency in handling the leaked photos. He said opening a formal investigation would call on legal union rules that could include lawyers, delays and give more opportunity for the photos to be circulated.

“There’s one way we can get them right away,” Villanueva said, referring to the accident site, so he came up with what he called a “bargain.”

The deputies involved in the leak would prove that the photos have been deleted and get a record of their behavior in a performance log, Villanueva testified.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs sought to demonstrate that the handling of the episode limited internal affairs from conducting an investigation into alleged misconduct later.

“You can’t have the responsibility and (also) risk the photos coming out,” Villanueva testified. “And we chose the right one.”

Bryant had previously testified that she lives in fear because a formal investigation could not confirm that all photos of the crash site had been accounted for and destroyed.

Law enforcement officers described how they shared photos

The trial so far has seen testimony from several law enforcement officers, including one deputy who testified that he showed graphic footage of the scene while at a bar, another deputy who said he shared photos while playing a video game, a deputy who sent dozens of photos to someone he didn’t know, and a firefighter who showed the images to other personnel during an awards cocktail hour.

Chester, who filed the charges along with Bryant, testified on Thursday, saying he lives in fear that the graphic photos taken of the bodies of his loved ones will one day resurface.

Fire chief denies using Kobe Bryant crash photos as "party trick"  at cocktail hour

Chester took the stand after several days of law enforcement testimony — some of them apologized, gave details about the graphic nature of the photos, and explained why they were being taken and shared and why they were ordered to be removed.

Bryant has listened in court to the testimonies of every witness except the coroner. She walked out of the courtroom abruptly when a bartender testified that she had seen photographs.

Villanueva is expected to be followed on the booth 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 hillside in Calabasas, California.

They were flying to a girls’ basketball game at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks when the helicopter crashed, leaving no survivors.

CNN’s Ray Sanchez contributed to this report.

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