Jae C Hong/AP/Shutterstock Vanessa Bryant
Vanessa Bryant excused herself from the courtroom on the second day of her trial against Los Angeles County, as a witness testified that a deputy trainee from the department shared gruesome photos from the crash that killed her daughter, Gianna, and husband, Kobe Bryant.
Bryant, 40, began crying during one witness testimony, before excusing herself from the room, according to a report from USA Today. She did not return that day.
Bryant and Chris Chester, a father who lost his wife and daughter in the 2020 helicopter crash, are suing L.A. County for damages for emotional distress and mental anguish following the news that eight L.A. County Sheriff's Department deputies allegedly took graphic photographs of the victims and shared them with unauthorized people.
Multiple witnesses took the stand on Thursday, including former bartender Victor Gutierrez, who said he was shown the photos by Cruz. The jury also heard from Ralph Mendez Jr., a bar patron who said he witnessed the interaction and then filed a formal complaint with the sheriff's department.
Gutierrez told the courtroom on Thursday that shortly after the Jan. 26, 2020 crash, he was approached by deputy trainee Joey Cruz during his bartending shift, who asked if Gutierrez wanted to see a photo of the victim's bodies.
According to USA Today, an attorney for Bryant asked Gutierrez directly: "Did you see a human torso in the photo that you understood to be Kobe Bryant?" Gutierrez confirmed that Cruz showed him the body part.
Gutierrez also said Cruz showed him photos that included body parts unidentifiable by gender or age. "Did you also see what appeared to be a girl in any of the photos?" Bryant's attorney asked. Gutierrez replied, "They were just parts...I don't know if they were men or women."
The jury was also shown video footage of Cruz and Gutierrez at the bar, which reportedly showed the two men looking at Cruz's phone and laughing. Gutierrez is then seen motioning to his throat, head, and torso, which Bryant's attorney suggested was in reference to the condition of the victim's bodies. USA Today stated that Gutierrez refuted the idea, telling the courtroom, "You gotta be psycho to do that."
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Gutierrez claimed that he was not laughing at photos of the victims while on the stand. However, Mendez, the bar patron who said he witnessed the interaction and filed a complaint with the sheriff's office, told the jury he was "in disbelief of everything" he heard from Cruz and Gutierrez that night.
Prior to Gutierrez's testimony, a captain of the county coroner's office, Emily Tauscher, took the stand to testify to the state of the crash victims' bodies. According to USA Today, Bryant, whose lawyer said she lives in fear of the photos getting out publicly, left the courtroom for Tauscher's testimony.
The trial began Wednesday, just hours after jury selection was completed, per multiple outlets. Bryant filed her lawsuit against Los Angeles County in Sept. 2021, alleging emotional distress after learning that first responders had publicly shared photos from the crash.
Los Angeles County tried to dismiss her lawsuit in Dec. 2021, but a judge refused their request. In her declaration filed in response to a motion, Bryant said she's felt "tremendous pain and distress."
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Bryant said in part, "It infuriates me that the people I trusted to protect the dignity of my husband and daughter abused their positions to obtain souvenirs of their deaths, as though possessing pictures of their remains somehow makes them special."
"I feel sick at the thought that deputies and firefighters have gawked at photos of my husband's and child's bodies without any reason," she added. "I also feel extreme sadness and anger knowing that photos of my husband's and daughter's bodies were laughed about while shown at a bar and an awards banquet. Given how many people had the photos, I am confident these were not the only times the photos were shown off."
Along with Kobe and their 13-year-old daughter Gianna, the 2020 helicopter crash also claimed the lives of 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.