Jae C. Hong/AP
LOS ANGELES — Vanessa Bryant testified Friday that she only began to mourn the loss of her husband, basketball star Kobe Bryant, and their 13-year-old daughter Gianna when she was faced with the new horror of learning that the deputies and firefighters had shot and shared photos of their bodies at the scene 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 running off a pier and jumping into the water. The problem is I can’t escape. I can’t escape my body.”
During her three hours on the witness stand in a Los Angeles federal court, where she is suing LA County for invasion of privacy over the photos, Bryant said she had fought to get both public and private memorials to her loved ones and seven others who died. were murdered on January 26, 2020, and thought she was really ready to begin the grieving process about a month later. She was with friends and her surviving daughters holding her 7-month-old baby when she got a call about a Los Angeles Times story on the crash site photos.
“I shot out of the house and to the side so my girls wouldn’t see it,” she said. “I was caught off guard, devastated, hurt again. I trusted them. I trusted them not to do these things.”
Evidence presented at the trial showed that a sheriff’s deputy showed a photo of Bryant’s body to a bartender while he was drinking, leading to an official complaint from another man drinking nearby, and that firefighters shared them with each other. during an award ceremony. Others shared them with spouses. A county attorney said the photos were taken only because they were essential to assessing the site shortly after the crash, and that when LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva learned they were being shared, he demanded they all be removed.
No photos have appeared publicly, but Vanessa Bryant said she is constantly concerned that some would still do so.
“I live every day in fear of being on social media and these popping up,” she testified. “I live in fear that my daughters will be on social media and this one will show up.”
She said the thought keeps her up at night as she lies next to her 3-year-old and her 5-year-old, and sometimes leads to panic attacks where she can’t breathe.
Cross-examined by J. Mira Hashmall, the attorney representing LA County at the trial, Bryant testified that she had not been medically diagnosed with panic attacks or mental illness, nor had she taken any medications for them.
She said she spoke to a therapist about 18 months after the crash, but hasn’t since.
“I feel like sometimes it helps,” Bryant said, “but sometimes it’s totally exhausting.”
Hashmall spent much of her 90-minute cross-examination through the corporate roles Bryant now plays, including serving as president of her husband’s multimedia company, Granity Studios, overseeing the publication of the one book he wrote, and complete and publish another book. the foundation started for Kobe and Gianna and founded several other companies.
Hashmall suggested that Bryant’s ability to do all of this meant she was functioning well and not overcome with fear and anxiety.
“It sounds like you’re juggling a business empire alongside everything else,” Hashmall said at one point.
“For me, it’s a labor of love,” Bryant said, remaining calm and composed throughout the cross-examination.
She often cried and occasionally laughed during the interrogation of her lawyer Luis Li, who let her describe her life with her husband and their daughters.
“He was just such a beautiful and devoted father,” she said.
Bryant wrote down the day of the crash, her fear and frustration as she tried to find out if her husband and daughter were still alive after initially hearing from an assistant that there were five survivors.
She described Sheriff Villanueva entering a room where she waited at the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station and confirmed that her husband and daughter had been murdered. He asked if he could do anything for her.
“I told him, if you can’t bring my babies back, please secure the area,” Bryant said. “I’m worried about paparazzi.”
“Did the sheriff tell you that one of his officers had already gone up to the hill to take close-up photos of accident victims?” asked Li.
“No,” Bryant replied.
During the cross-examination, Hashmall said the deputy, Doug Johnson, who hiked through difficult terrain into the hills of northern Los Angeles County to the crash site and took the photos that were later 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 determine how many people are on an airplane,” Bryant replied. “I think he could have just counted.”
Bryant’s side rested her case after her testimony, which came on the eighth day of the trial.