Judge Denies L.A. County's Request to Dismiss Vanessa Bryant's Leaked Kobe Crash Photos Lawsuit

  • In Business
  • 2022-01-06 18:05:22Z
  • By People
Vanessa Bryant attends the Universal Pictures \"F9\" World Premiere at TCL Chinese Theatre on June 18, 2021 in Hollywood
Vanessa Bryant attends the Universal Pictures \"F9\" World Premiere at TCL Chinese Theatre on June 18, 2021 in Hollywood  

Rich Fury/WireImage

A California judge has denied Los Angeles County's request to dismiss Vanessa Bryant's lawsuit against them over her claim that photos taken at her husband Kobe Bryant's helicopter crash site on Jan. 26, 2020, were leaked.

U.S. District Judge John F. Walter ruled Wednesday that "there are genuine issues of material facts for trial," according to new documents obtained by PEOPLE.

Walter added that his role as a judge is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial."

Bryant, 39, is seeking damages for emotional distress and mental anguish after eight L.A. County Sheriff's Department deputies allegedly took graphic photographs of the victims and shared them with unauthorized people. Kobe, 41, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna as well as 13-year-old Payton Chester, Sarah Chester, 46, 14-year-old Alyssa Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, 46, John Altobelli, 56, Christina Mauser, 38, and pilot Ara Zobayan, 50, were all killed.

Attorneys for Los Angeles County said in response to this week's ruling that "we respectfully disagree."

RELATED: L.A. County Seeks Dismissal of Vanessa Bryant Leaked Crash Photos Lawsuit, Says 'Not Reasonable'

"The county did not cause Ms. Bryant's loss and, as was promised on the day of the crash, none of the county's accident site photos were ever publicly disseminated," Skip Miller, partner at the Miller Barondess law firm and outside counsel for L.A. County, told PEOPLE in a statement. "The county did its job and looks forward to showing that at trial."

Though attorneys for Bryant did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment, they told CNN, "We look forward to presenting the facts to a jury."

Los Angeles County issued their request to have Bryant's lawsuit dismissed in November.

The county said it "did not cause" the accident and its staff "worked tirelessly to protect the crash site, identify the victims, and notify the families," according to documents obtained by PEOPLE at the time. Bryant's lawsuit is "without legal merit" and "her claims about crash site photos fail as a matter of law," the county's legal team also stated.

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In the November filing, the county called Bryant's "fear" of the alleged leaked photos surfacing in the future "not reasonable," arguing that they cannot be sued for "hypothetical harm."

The county referenced the results from a "neutral forensic examination by an independent examiner" which previously "confirmed that there are no photos containing victims' remains and no evidence of public dissemination." Thus, the county claimed that "there is therefore nothing for [Bryant] to fear" because the alleged photos are "gone" and "cannot be recovered" nearly two years after the crash.

Hall of Fame
Hall of Fame  

ESPN Vanessa Bryant

In March 2020, Sheriff Alex Villanueva confirmed to reporters that only the county coroner's office and investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board were permitted to photograph the crash scene.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department trainee deputy Joey Cruz "showed accident site photos to a single friend. His phone did not leave his hand, and the photos did not leave his phone," the county acknowledged in the November filing. However, the county claimed: "Because the photos were not shown to 'the public at large' and their content is not 'of public knowledge,' the 'public disclosure' element for invasion of privacy has not been met." (Cruz was suspended for 10 days; his involvement had previously been confirmed.)

In an Oct. 12 deposition as part of the case, the mother of four said that she is "traumatized, has trouble sleeping and is depressed for 'many' reasons," adding, "The impact of the helicopter crash was so damaging, I just don't understand how someone can have no regard for life and compassion, and, instead, choose to take that opportunity to photograph lifeless and helpless individuals for their own sick amusement."

Attorneys for Bryant have also previously said she hopes for accountability with the lawsuit so that "no one ever has to deal with this conduct in the future."

The trial is set to begin in February 2022.


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