A high-stakes drama between one of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies and the widow of one of the city’s patron saints is currently taking place in a courtroom on the seventh floor of the marbled federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.
A helicopter crash that claimed the lives of nine individuals, including former Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, is the subject of disturbing victim images that emergency personnel at the crash site took on their own cell phones.
Sheriff’s detectives were contacted by Raphel Mendez, who reported that Victor Gutierrez, the bartender, had approached their table and relayed a tale about how a Los Angeles County sheriff’s officer who frequented the establishment had just shown Gutierrez gruesome images of crash victims.
I was astonished, Mendez testified on the witness stand. “I was appalled, furious, and disappointed.” Mendez drove back home, sat in his parked car in his driveway, and submitted a complaint on the Sheriff’s Department website.
The second day of a jury trial in a case brought by Vanessa Bryant, Bryant’s widow, who claimed that her privacy had been invaded when Los Angeles County investigators and Fire Department employees shared accident site photographs with their friends and coworkers, was underway.
Everyone involved, including the deputy at the bar and the firefighters at an awards dinner a few weeks later, violated the victims’ families’ constitutional rights to privacy over pictures of their loved ones’ remains, claims the lawsuit.
The attorneys for Bryant claimed in a complaint that Bryant “feels sick at the prospect of strangers gawking at photographs of her deceased husband and kid, and she lives in fear that she or her children could one day confront awful images of their loved ones online.”
“Many social media users have claimed to have seen images of the victims’ remains, and their accounts are credible given the number of deputies who took photos, the ease with which cellphone images are transmitted and saved in cloud storage, and the Sheriff’s Department’s egregious failure to take reasonable steps to prevent dissemination of the images,” the report reads.