- At a final pre-trial hearing, both Vanessa Bryant and LA County secured courtroom wins.
- Bryant will be able to call an expert witness to testify about what he calls the “widespread” practice of “death books.”
- LA County will not have to share the internal letters they sent to those accused of taking and sharing photos of the crash.
Vanessa Bryant and Los Angeles County notched wins on Friday, at a hearing ahead of Bryant’s trial against the county over accusations that LA County personnel took and shared photos of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe and Gianna Bryant and seven others.
Attorneys representing Vanessa Bryant will be allowed to call a 30-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department who claims to have seen law enforcement “death books,” but they were limited by the judge in terms of the internal Los Angeles County discipline letters they can reference to make their case that the photos were shared amongst staff.
Adam Bercovici, the former police officer that Bryant’s team will call to the stand, wrote in court filings that he had personally been shown photos of dead victims, often logged as “death books,” and argued that the “ghoulish souvenirs” were a cultural issue within Southern California law enforcement ever since Polaroid cameras have been in use.
On Friday, at a pre-trial conference before the August 10 trial date, Judge John Walter said that Bercovici’s testimony would be relevant to the case — a win for Bryant.
In September 2020, Bryant sued the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the county’s fire department, the county as a whole, and eight officers in the wake of reports that first responders took and shared photos of the January 2020 crash site.
Her suit is seeking punitive damages from county defendants who are accused of taking and sharing crash site photos. Bryant is suing the county for negligence, emotional distress, and invasion of privacy claims as well as federal claims which relate to the constitutional right to the images of her deceased loved ones, and LA County agency practices that led to the alleged taking and dissemination of photos.
In court documents filed in January, Bercovici wrote that as a longtime member of the LAPD, he “personally investigated over one hundred personnel complaints.”
“One particularly memorable example of this conduct came in 1994, when I was assigned as a supervisor at Operations West Bureau CRASH, I was shown a Polaroid of a deceased Nicole Brown Simpson,” Bercovici said in the filings.”The photograph depicted the deceased with her throat cut, almost to the point of decapitation.”
In March 2020, LASD Sheriff Alex Villanueva acknowledged the existence of “death books” during his initial comments after the news of the alleged improper photos came out, saying, “that’s a macabre idea, but some do that.”
At the hearing, Walter told the parties that Bercovici could not testify or opine about whether LA County agency investigations “deviated from basic standards,” as he had only been involved in LAPD investigations.
In a win for the county, Walter added that Bryant’s team would not be allowed to introduce alleged intent-to-discharge letters sent by Deputy Fire Chief William McCloud to staff members who were disciplined after being accused of taking photos of human remains at the crash site, arguing that the letters were “remedial actions.”
With five to six hundred exhibits of evidence introduced ahead of the trial, Walter told the court that he wanted to avoid a “mini-trial” focused on the county’s internal investigation, and wanted to zero in on whether improper photos were taken and shared — and whether they still exist.