How Vanessa Bryant won part of a stunning $31-million victory involving gruesome Kobe crash photos

Two men flank a woman wearing sunglasses
Vanessa Bryant arrives at the federal courthouse in Los Angeles last week to testify in the lawsuit over graphic photos taken by first responders at the scene of the helicopter crash that killed her husband, basketball legend Kobe Bryant, their teenage daughter and seven others.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

In February 2020, the Los Angeles Times reported that Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies had shared graphic photos of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others.

The revelation triggered a major scandal at the Sheriff’s Department that culminated Wednesday, when a jury ordered Los Angeles County to pay Vanessa Bryant, widow of Lakers star Kobe Bryant, and another man $31 million in damages.

The trial marked the culmination of an intensely personal, two-year legal fight for Vanessa Bryant and Chris Chester, who lost his daughter and wife in the crash. Bryant often expressed outrage over the conduct of deputies.


On the witness stand last week, Bryant said she had been watching TV with family at home when she learned that Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies had shared gruesome photos of the helicopter crash that killed her husband and the couple’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.

Portrait illustration of Kobe and Gianna Bryant with a wall of fan messages around them.
Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, marks the one-year anniversary of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe and Gianna Bryant and seven others.
(Constance Brantley / For The Times)

“I bolted out of the house,” Vanessa Bryant testified Friday in federal court in Los Angeles. Once she found a spot where her other three daughters could not hear her, she said, “I broke down and cried, and I wanted to run down the block and just scream.”

Bryant said she felt betrayed by deputies she had trusted to protect her family.

“I expected them to have more compassion — respect,” Bryant testified. “My husband and my daughter deserve dignity.”

During the trial, her lawyers documented how the photos had spread from the phones of deputies and firefighters at the crash scene on a steep hillside in Calabasas: They were flashed from a sheriff’s deputy’s phone screen to a bartender in Norwalk. They were shown to firefighters and their spouses during an awards gala at a hotel in Universal City in what amounted, one witness said, to a “party trick.” They were passed from one deputy to another as the pair played video games.


After the verdict, Vanessa Bryant posted a photo on Instagram of her, Kobe and Gigi with the caption: “All for you! I love you. JUSTICE for Kobe and Gigi.”

Here is a summary of The Times reporting on the crash photo scandal:

L.A. Sheriff’s Department says it is looking into reports that deputies shared graphic images of the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash scene.

Feb. 28, 2020

For nearly five weeks, the leadership of the Sheriff’s Department tried to keep a lid on the episode instead of following normal investigative protocols.

March 3, 2020

After deputies shared the photos, they were ordered to come to a station and delete them, Sheriff Alex Villanueva told a TV station.

March 2, 2020

Sheriff’s order to deputies to delete Kobe helicopter crash photos might get them jailed, captain warned

May 10, 2021

The Los Angeles Times first reported allegations that deputies were sharing graphic crash photos. Vanessa Bryant’s lawyer has asked for an investigation.

March 1, 2020

The shifting stories and sudden amnesia were among several inconsistencies and contradictions that lawyers for Vanessa Bryant focused on in the trial’s fourth day.

Aug. 16, 2022

A high-profile trial begins over L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies’ sharing photos of the crash that killed Kobe Bryant.

Aug. 9, 2022

Vanessa Bryant’s appearance came on the eighth day of a trial in her federal lawsuit against L.A. County over gruesome photos of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant.

Aug. 19, 2022