The Kobe Bryant photo trial is moving along, as Vanessa Bryant seeks restitution over the crash site images that were taken and disseminated by first responders in 2020. Thus far, the trial has included a number of notable testimonies, many of which have been from law enforcement officials who were on the scene. This week, another sheriff’s deputy took to the witness stand to give his testimony and revealed that he shared controversial Kobe photos while playing video games with a fellow cop.
Said testimony was made by Deputy Mike Russell this past Tuesday, according to the New York Post. While on the witness stand, Russell explained that he shared the photos with fellow Santa Clarita deputy Ben Sanchez the day after Kobe Bryant died alongside his daughter, Gianna, and seven others. Russell testified that he was lounging on his easy chair and playing Call of Duty when he asked if Sanchez wanted to see the pictures from the crash site. Sanchez answered in the affirmative and was apparently sent at least three photos from the scene.
While on the stand, Mike Russell asserted that he “[doesn’t] find dead bodies entertaining or amusing.” He’d also say that he’d made a “callous mistake” by sharing the photos with Ben Sanchez, who was apparently not involved with the investigation. Russell would go on to say that he shared the photos “in order to get through the stresses of the day before.” Russell also admitted to having five false statements in a three-paragraph memo regarding the situation. Per the Post, the department took no disciplinary action against him.
Vanessa Bryant is suing Los Angeles County for negligence and invasion of privacy. It’s been argued that Bryant has experienced “emotional distress,” and gauging that has been critical in determining whether she’s entitled to the millions of dollars she’s seeking. Internet messages have played a major role in the case thus far and, just recently, it was reported that taunting social media messages involving Kobe would be shown to jurors. However, messages sent to Vanessa before her husband’s death became public knowledge were excluded from the case.
In terms of Mike Russell’s testimony, he also said that the images had been sent to him by another officer, Sheriff’s Deputy Joey Cruz. Cruz testified on both Monday and Tuesday and admitted to sharing the photos with other people, one of which was a bartender friend. While explaining his rationale for showing him the photos, Cruz said that he needed someone to “vent” to. And in his own testimony, the bartender dismissed claims that he laughed when being shown the images.
Another person who has taken to the witness stand is Sheriff’s Deputy Doug Johnson, who said he “didn’t do anything wrong.” Johnson, who was said to have taken 25 photos at the crash site and sent them to a colleague, said his actions were “common practice” for such a situation. He also said that he deleted the photos from his personal cell phone that night. A former fire captain also provided testimony this week, though he was apparently hesitant to answer questions regarding whether he shared photos. One of the sentiments he did share, however, was that the crash scene will “haunt” him forever.
The judge and jury will hear from Vanessa Bryant herself later this week. With that, further updates on the ongoing trial should arrive relatively soon.
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Erik Swann is a Senior Content Producer at CinemaBlend. He began working with the publication in 2020 when he was hired as Weekend Editor. Today, he continues to write, edit and handle social media responsibilities over the weekend. On weekdays, he also writes TV and movie-related news and helps out with editing and social media as needed. He graduated from the University of Maryland, where he received a degree in Broadcast Journalism. After shifting into multi-platform journalism, he started working as a freelance writer and editor before joining CB. Covers superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. He eats more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.