- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- American basketball player (1978-2020)
Lawyers for Los Angeles County are seeking to dismiss Vanessa Bryant's lawsuit against them over her claim that photos taken at her husband Kobe Bryant's helicopter crash site were leaked.
In documents filed on Monday, and obtained by PEOPLE, the county expressed "great sympathy for Bryant and her tragic loss," calling the crash on Jan. 26, 2020, a "horrific accident that took nine innocent lives."
However, 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." 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 states in the latest documents.
Bryant, 39, is seeking 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. The crash claimed the lives of Kobe, 41, their 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.
An attorney for Bryant did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
In Monday's 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."
"It is undisputed that the complained-of photos have never been in the media, on the Internet, or otherwise publicly disseminated. Instead, [Bryant] testified that this case is about her 'having to fear those photographs surfacing.' But a preemptive, speculative lawsuit about what 'may' or 'could' happen, as [Bryant] testified, fails as a matter of law," the county's legal team claims.
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.
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 Monday's 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.)
Though the county once again recognized that Bryant "suffered an unspeakable loss," its legal team doubled down on their reasons to dismiss Bryant's lawsuit.
"Even if photos were to surface one day, [Bryant] would still have hurdles to establish a real, concrete injury—she would have to show that the photos: (i) came from County employees; and (ii) depicted her family members. Neither fact is a foregone conclusion," Monday's filing claimed.
"It is not enough, as a matter of law, to speculate about what may or may not happen in the future," the document added.
A week ago, a judge ordered Bryant and her therapist to submit mental health records spanning from Jan. 1, 2017, to the present. The judge previously denied the county's request to require Bryant to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to prove her emotional distress as a result of the leaked images.
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 scheduled for Feb. 22, 2022.