Warning: This story accommodates descriptions that some readers could discover disturbing.
LOS ANGELES – Vanessa Bryant sobbed and excused herself from a federal courtroom right here Thursday as a former bartender from an space Mexican restaurant testified about being proven photographs of physique elements from the helicopter crash in January 2020 that killed 9, together with her daughter Gianna and husband, Kobe, the NBA legend.
Bryant left the courtroom after the previous bartender recounted how a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy trainee got here to his restaurant and confirmed him photographs from the crash scene two days after the accident.
They had been grotesque.
“Did you see a human torso in the photo that you understood to be Kobe Bryant?” requested certainly one of Bryant’s attorneys, Craig Jennings Lavoie.
“Yes,” replied the previous bartender, Victor Gutierrez.
This was Day 2 of Bryant’s civil trial in opposition to Los Angeles County – a day that delved into graphic particulars from the crash scene and featured testimony from 5 witnesses, together with the previous bartender in Norwalk, California.
Gutierrez mentioned the deputy trainee, Joey Cruz, requested him at his bar that night time if he wished to see a photograph of Kobe Bryant’s physique.
“Did you also see what appeared to be a girl in any of the photos?” Lavoie requested.
“They were just parts,” Gutierrez mentioned. “I don’t know if they were men or women.”
Bryant cried, then obtained up, left and did not return Thursday. She sued the county final yr, accusing county sheriff’s and fireplace division staff of taking and sharing photographs of her deceased family members from the crash scene regardless of not having a authorities purpose for doing so. She is joined on the trial for this case by plaintiff Chris Chester, who misplaced his spouse and daughter in the identical crash and is suing the county for a similar causes.
Both are seated in entrance of a jury of six males and 4 girls who shall be tasked with figuring out whether or not their Fourteenth Amendment rights to privateness had been violated by the county’s conduct, though the county says the photographs had been deleted quickly after the accident and by no means had been posted Online.
After Wednesday’s dramatic opening statements, Thursday’s occasions gave the jury a lot to contemplate:
The bartender on video
The jury was proven a number of surveillance video clips from the bar in Norwalk on the night time Cruz visited. Cruz is predicted to testify subsequent week, however Gutierrez gave his account of their interactions that night time on Thursday.
The video, which didn’t embody audio of their voices, confirmed the 2 Cruz’s telephone, after which Gutierrez reacting with laughter. After Cruz’s telephone, the video additionally confirmed Gutierrez approaching different patrons on the restaurant and making hand gestures to his throat, head and torso as he spoke to them.
Lavoie steered he was speaking concerning the situation of the our bodies he noticed within the photographs from Cruz.
But Gutierrez typically testified he didn’t keep in mind what he mentioned that night time to completely different folks. One of the few issues he mentioned he did keep in mind was that he by no means laughed concerning the photographs.
“You gotta be psycho to do that,” he mentioned. He as an alternative steered his laughter within the video may need been in response to one thing else he noticed on Cruz’s telephone after he appeared on the crash photographs, corresponding to an unrelated humorous video.
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Citizen grievance from bar
After Gutierrez testified, one other patron on the restaurant that night time took the stand. His identify is Ralph Mendez Jr., an actual property investor who filed a grievance with the sheriff’s division after Gutierrez informed folks at his desk concerning the photographs proven by Cruz.
That grievance ultimately led to this trial.
On Thursday, Mendez described his response to what Gutierrez informed him that night time.
“I was in disbelief of everything I heard,” mentioned Mendez, who additionally described it as a “sense of betrayal” by Cruz, a regulation enforcement officer entrusted with defending the neighborhood. Mendez filed his grievance on the sheriff’s web site later that night time from the driveway of his house.
Under the topic line “Kobe,” the grievance mentioned, “There was a deputy at Baja California Bar and Grill in Norwalk showing pictures of his decapitated body.”
Mendez later was contacted concerning the grievance by sheriff’s captain Jorge Valdez. But when a Los Angeles Times reporter requested Valdez concerning the grievance earlier than it grew to become public in February 2020, Valdez denied being conscious of it.
Audio of that interview was performed in courtroom for the jury.
“I’m unaware of any complaint,” Valdez mentioned within the audio from February 2020.
Asked his response to this in courtroom Thursday, Mendez known as Valdez a liar.
“He’s lying,” mentioned Mendez.
Eliciting grotesque particulars
Earlier within the day, Bryant stayed out of the courtroom during testimony from a captain of the county coroner’s workplace, Emily Tauscher.
Unlike the sheriff’s and fireplace departments, the coroner’s workplace is just not accused of misusing photographs from the crash scene. But it did have greater than 1,000 of them as a part of its duties, main Tauscher to the witness stand Thursday, the place she shared graphic particulars concerning the mutilated situation of the victims after the high-velocity crash.
Her testimony underscored a merciless irony about this case. Bryant’s and Chester’s attorneys say their purchasers stay in worry of those grotesque demise photographs reemerging in the future and are haunted by the considered that. But in addition they are eliciting graphic particulars from witnesses in open courtroom concerning the photographs and the situation of the our bodies from the crash web site – to the purpose that Bryant stayed out of the courtroom twice due to it.
This is being completed for a purpose, in accordance with Bryant’s lawyer, Luis Li.
“Because (county) defendants deny that photos taken and shared by their personnel depicted the remains of plaintiffs’ loved ones, and because they deleted those photos or failed to preserve them, plaintiffs must present witness testimony about what defendants’ photos depicted,” Li said in a courtroom doc filed Wednesday.
Pelinka finishes testimony
The day started with about 40 minutes of testimony from Lakers common supervisor Rob Pelinka, who initially took the stand Wednesday as the primary witness of the trial.
He testified that Bryant expressed to him that if the crash photographs are ever seen by her kids “she didn’t know if she could go on.”
He mentioned he didn’t see such photographs, but when he did, “it would be an image I could never get out of my head.”
And he would need them gone endlessly.
“I would want them destroyed and removed from the universe,” Pelinka mentioned.
The county has argued the photographs don’t seem to exist anymore as a result of they had been deleted for related causes – to maintain them from spreading additional and to guard the victims’ households.
An inside investigation discovered the photographs went to the gadgets of 28 sheriff’s personnel, along with fireplace personnel, in accordance with courtroom information. Testimony concerning the fireplace division’s dealing with of those photographs is predicted Friday morning in a trial that might stretch throughout two weeks.