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Vanessa Bryant testifies in lawsuit over Kobe Bryant crash photos

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LOS ANGELES — Vanessa Bryant, the widow of late Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, took the witness stand here Friday morning, describing panic attacks and anguish suffered since learning of photos taken by and shared among authorities of the 2020 helicopter crash that killed her husband, her daughter and seven others.

“I want to remember my husband and my daughter the way they were,” Bryant said, testifying through tears. “I don’t ever want to see these photographs shared or viewed.”

Bryant’s testimony, in a federal courthouse a couple miles from the downtown arena where her late husband led the Lakers to five championships, marked the emotional climax of a wrenching legal saga that’s played out here since the January 2020 crash.

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Bryant and Chris Chester, whose wife and daughter were also among the crash’s victims, have used the civil rights lawsuit to demand answers from Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and firefighters about why they took gruesome cellphone photos of the accident scene and then shared them, including at a bar and a firefighters’ gala.

Bryant said that in late February 2020, a month after the crash, she was in a game room in her home with her two small children when a news break on TV showed that L.A. County authorities had taken and shared illicit photos of the scene.

“I expected them to have more compassion, respect,” said Bryant, whose testimony was expected to continue Friday morning. “My husband and my daughter deserve dignity.”

The afternoon before Bryant took the stand, Chester testified that he felt those answers were still elusive, noting the shifting rationales given by first responders who took the stand. Like Vanessa Bryant, Chester said he was haunted by the possibility that illicit photos of the crime scene could still surface.

County attorneys have argued that deputies and firefighters had official reasons for taking photos at the scene. But court testimony from those first responders has at times bordered on humiliating. A fire captain claimed he no longer remembered being at the scene and left the witness stand to collect himself three times. Another deputy apologized for showing a bartender buddy photos from the scene. Forensic analysis has shown that cellphones and hard drives containing the illicit photos were mysteriously missing or wiped clean.

Laurie Levenson, a professor of law at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said it is the kind of embarrassing and damaging testimony that is usually precluded by a settlement. But in this case, with Vanessa Bryant worth hundreds of millions of dollars, there hasn’t been one.

“If this case wasn’t about Kobe Bryant, and if the plaintiff didn’t have the resources to pursue this to trial, I doubt that it would have ever gotten this far,” Levenson said. “For the Bryant family, they want accountability, and they have the resources to get it.”