January 26, 2020, was a tragic day for the Bryant family. A helicopter accident took the life of famed basketball player Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven others.

As if the day wasn’t difficult enough for Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, she had to learn about the possible death of her family members through social media.

Now, Vanessa Bryant is in a legal fight to hold accountable the people who leaked the details — and photos — of the terrible accident. Will Vanessa Bryant be able to get justice for herself and her loved ones?

The Tragic Accident

January 26, 2020, was a fairly normal Sunday for the Bryant family. They were used to taking helicopters to travel over the congested roadways near their home in Orange County, California. Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant boarded the helicopter with six other passengers and a pilot who the Bryants had flown with regularly.

The passengers, which included two of Gianna Bryant’s teammates and their parents, were on their way to a basketball game, but they wouldn’t make it. The helicopter crashed into a hillside, and everyone on the plane was killed.

According to Vanessa Bryant, she learned about the accident from the family’s assistant who came to the residence to tell her. The assistant told Vanessa Bryant there had been an accident, there were believed to be five survivors, and she didn’t know if the survivors included Kobe and Gianna.

Vanessa Bryant said the first indication she got that Kobe and Gianna didn’t make it was via social media. She says her phone was lighting up with “R.I.P. Kobe” messages.

Related: What Does It Take to Be an Attorney for a High-Profile Case? 

How Did the Story (and Photos) Get Leaked?

Vanessa Bryant says Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies took and shared unauthorized photos of the crash shortly after it happened.

In a lawsuit, Vanessa Bryant alleges, “No fewer than eight sheriff’s deputies at the crash site, pulled out their personal cell phones and snapped photos of the dead children, parents and coaches. The deputies took these photos for their own personal gratification.”

The lawsuit also alleges that other law enforcement officials not involved with the case also shared photos of the accident. In one situation, the photos were said to be shared in a bar. In another situation, the photos were shown at an awards gala.

A filing from Vanessa’s Byant’s legal team says, “Discovery has shown that the close-up photos of Gianna and Kobe’s remains were passed around on at least twenty-eight Sheriff’s Department devices and by at least a dozen firefighters.”

Not only does the lawsuit allege that photos were leaked and shown to the public, but it also accuses the Defendants of covering up their activity.

“It has also shown that Defendants engaged in a cover up, destroying the direct forensic evidence of their misconduct and requiring extensive circumstantial evidence to establish the full extent of that misconduct,” says the filing.

Related: Dealing With the Media During a High-Profile Case: What to Expect

The Lawsuit and Upcoming Trial

In September 2020, Vanessa Bryant filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and Sheriff Alex Villanueva in federal court. The lawsuit claims civil rights violations, negligence, emotional distress, and violation of privacy.

In March 2021, Vanessa Bryant opened up the lawsuit to include four men who are accused of sharing photos from the scene: Joey Cruz, Rafael Mejia, Michael Russell, and Raul Versales.

The case is set to go before a jury on February 22, 2022. According to reports by CNN, Vanessa Bryant’s legal team plans to call at least 12 witnesses, and up to 28 people may be called to testify.

The civil lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, including punitive damages. For the Bryants, the case is more about preventing the sharing of horrific personal details in the future.

“This [filing] solely is about enforcing accountability, protecting the victims and making sure no one ever has to deal with this conduct in the future,” a Bryant family spokesperson told People. “When a family suffers the loss of loved ones, they have the right to expect that they will be treated with dignity and respect.”

In addition to the lawsuit, a new California state law may help prevent this type of situation from happening again.

Just nine months after the tragic accident, California ratified a law that makes it illegal for first responders to take unauthorized pictures of people killed at the scene of an accident or crime.

The upcoming case has nothing to do with when Vanessa Bryant sued for wrongful death. The lawsuit filed against the companies that owned and operated the helicopter, as well as the estate of the late helicopter pilot, was settled in June 2021. Details of the settlement were not released.

Protect Your Rights

All people, even public figures, have rights that need to be protected.

If you feel your rights or the rights of a loved one have been violated, you deserve justice. Talk to an attorney who will fight for you to protect your legal rights. If you have a personal injury or civil case to discuss, contact TJ Grimaldi to see if he can help you get justice for you or your loved one. Request an appointment or call 813-226-1023.

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