Police Deputy Testifies to Sending Out Kobe Bryant Crash Photos While Playing Video Games

Amid Vanessa Bryant's trial against L.A. County for invasion of privacy and negligence, police deputy Michael Russell testified that he sent photos from the Kobe Bryant crash site to another officer.

By Alli Rosenbloom, Kisha Forde Aug 17, 2022 2:10 PMTags
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Troubling details are emerging amid Vanessa Bryant's ongoing trial against Los Angeles County.
While taking the stand on Aug. 16, police deputy Michael Russell testified that he sent another deputy officer, Ben Sanchez, photos from the site of the January 2020 helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, Gianna "Gigi" Bryant and seven others. Russell claimed that he received the photos from police deputy Joey Cruz hours after the crash and also sent them to another deputy located in the Santa Clarita County.
A "day or two" after the fatal crash, as Russell testified, he and Sanchez were playing Call of Duty and communicating on their headsets when Russell sent Sanchez the photos in his possession, recalling that he "told him it was possible one of them was Kobe Bryant." Sanchez testified that he told Los Angeles County Sherriff's Department investigators that Russell warned him they were "graphic."
During cross examination, Russell said both asking for and sending the photos was a "very callous mistake" and said that he wouldn't do it again.

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Russell's shocking testimony comes just days after Los Angeles Lakers general manager and close family friend of the late NBA star, Rob Pelinka, took the stand.

Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

On Aug. 12, Pelinka testified that he has witnessed Vanessa suffer panic attacks on "numerous occasions" over the existence of the unauthorized photos. While Rob noted that Vanessa—who is also mom to kids Natalia, 19, Bianka, 5, and Capri, 3—is "always very mindful of being strong and courageous in front of her daughters," he said that Vanessa is wracked with grief and anxiety behind closed doors.
Vanessa's trial comes a little less than two years after she filed her lawsuit against L.A. County officials. In the complaint obtained by E! News at the time, Vanessa claimed that multiple deputies snapped pictures of remains at the crash site and forwarded them to colleagues, one of whom was seen on surveillance footage showing his phone to a bartender.

During the trial's opening remarks on Aug. 10, an attorney representing L.A. County said that it was "essential" to the investigation for officers to take photos and that authorities have worked hard to make sure they remain confidential.
In her lawsuit, Vanessa, who been in attendance for the court proceedings, is seeking damages for emotional distress.

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