Four months after the January 2020 accident, the NBA icon's wife sued the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and other agencies for emotional distress, claiming first responders took and shared unauthorized photos of the human remains at the crash site. The county's lawyers maintain the images "were not publicly disseminated." On the morning of Oct. 12, Vanessa gave a deposition for the case in a Zoom video conference. A transcript of her words was filed in court on Friday, Oct. 22, and obtained by E! News.
Vanessa testified that on the morning of the crash, around 11:30 a.m., their family assistant knocked on their door and said there was an accident with five survivors, and did not know if Kobe and Gianna were okay.
All nine people aboard the helicopter died when the aircraft crashed into a hill in Calabasas, Calif., amid heavy fog, while traveling to a teen basketball tournament at Kobe's Mamba Sports Academy near Thousand Oaks, Calif. TMZ broke the news of the NBA star's death around 11:30 a.m., the same time their family assistant knocked on their door.
Vanessa said in the deposition that she tried calling her husband but received no answer, adding that she then called her mother to ask her to "spot me with the littles"—daughters Bianca, now 4, and Capri, now 2. Kobe is also survived by the couple's eldest daughter, Natalia, now 18.
"As soon as I was on the phone with my mom, I was holding onto my phone, because obviously I was trying to call my husband back," Vanessa said, "and all these notifications started popping up on my phone, saying 'RIP Kobe. RIP Kobe. RIP Kobe.'"
Vanessa, whose family home is in Orange County, Calif., said she picked up Natalia from an ACT prep class. Kobe's wife said that authorities told her they couldn't tell her anything over the phone and that she would have to drive an hour and a half to a police station in Malibu, the closest one to the crash site. She said her assistant dropped her off at the local airport, where she requested that a helicopter fly her to the crash site. She said one of the helicopter owners refused, saying the weather conditions were too bad.
She said Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka eventually drove her and Natalia to the Malibu police station in the teen's car. Vanessa said that they arrived around 1:30 p.m. and that after a wait, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva told her what happened.
She said she feared fans, drones or helicopters would take pictures of her husband, her daughter and their friends and told the sheriff, "If you can't bring my husband and baby back, please make sure no one takes photographs of them. Please secure the area."
Vanessa said the sheriff later told her, "All is good. The area is secure. There's an umbrella over the area."
Lawyers for Los Angeles County had responded to Vanessa's lawsuit in May. They wrote in their filing, "The county does not condone this showing of accident site photographs and has taken corrective personnel actions accordingly. That does not mean, however, that plaintiff has viable legal claims. The two seminal cases involve public dissemination of pictures of human remains, and that did not occur here. The photographs were not given to the media and were not posted on the internet. They were not publicly disseminated."
Before she gave her deposition, Vanessa's lawyers had argued in a court filing that such examinations are "cruel," according to The New York Times, which first reported the story. While questioning Kobe's wife over Zoom, an attorney representing Los Angeles County told her, "It's not harassment. It's just a lawsuit. And I'm so sorry to put you through this, but like I said at the beginning, I've got to do my job." Vanessa responded, "I shouldn't have to be going through this."
The Los Angeles County attorney also asked her to look at some graphic images and messages, some photoshopped, that had been sent to her on social media, while trying to argue that others besides sheriff's deputies had caused her emotional distress. The deposition transcript said Vanessa put her hand in front of the camera and said she did not want to look.
Vanessa also confirmed that she personally has not seen any photos of her husband and daughter's remains. She added that she had in her possession the clothes that Kobe and Gianna wore during the crash, adding, "I had to recover all their items because I know people are sick and would like to take pictures of them and share them."
"They suffered a lot," she added about Kobe and Gianna. "And if their clothes represent the condition of their bodies, I cannot imagine how someone could be callous and have no regard for them or our friends, and just share the images as if they were animals on a street."
During the deposition, Vanessa was asked if she is seeking monetary damages in her lawsuit. She said, "That's up to the jury."
Vanessa was also asked what "emotional distress" means to her. She responded, "Emotional distress means that not only do I have to grieve the loss of my husband and child, but for the rest of my life I'm going to have to fear that those photographs of my husband and child will be leaked."
Vanessa said she is seeking "accountability," adding, "No one should ever have to endure this type of pain and fear of their family members. The pictures getting released, this is not okay."