Vanessa Bryant: Jury awards plaintiffs $31 million in lawsuit over Kobe Bryant crash photos


Vanessa Bryant was awarded $16 million in damages and Christopher Chester was awarded $15 million.

The verdict stems from photos taken by LA County deputies and firefighters the day after the crash that killed legendary Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, Chester’s wife Sarah, his daughter Payton and five others. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the helicopter pilot pushed the limits of flight rules in bad weather before crashing into a hill in Calabasas, California.

The photos included not only the wreckage of the helicopter, but also close-up images of the mutilated bodies of those killed.

Bryant and Chester argued that photos of loved ones caused emotional distress and violated their privacy. Each testified to living in fear that the photos would surface, despite the county’s claim the photos had been destroyed.

Jurors listened to 11 days of graphic and emotional testimony. Witnesses during the trial included an MP who said he showed footage of the scene to two people at a bar; another MP who said he shared photos while playing a video game; a deputy who dropped photos of the scene to an unidentified person in firefighter gear; a fire captain who took similar photos but returned a service device that was missing its hard drive; and a fire official who showed the footage to other staff at a cocktail reception during the awards ceremony.

The federal jury found that the sheriff and fire departments lacked proper policies and training, which resulted in the violation of rights. Plaintiff’s only claim not supported by jurors was in a finding that the County Fire Department was not responsible for a long-held widespread practice or custom of taking illicit photographs. The sheriff’s department was found responsible for the same problem.

Immediately after the verdict was read, Bryant hugged his attorneys. As she continued to cry, Bryant then tearfully embraced her daughter Natalia in the front row. She left the courthouse without making a statement, but posted a photo of herself, Kobe Bryant and their daughter Gianna on Instagram with the caption: “All for you! Love you! JUSTICE for Kobe and Gigi !”

“This case has always been about liability,” his lawyer Luis Li said in a statement. “And now the jury has spoken unanimously.”

Attorney Mira Hashmall, who ran an outside attorney for LA County, released a statement shortly after the verdict.

“While we disagree with the jury’s findings as to the county’s liability, we believe the monetary award shows that the jurors did not believe the evidence supported the plaintiffs’ claim of $75 million for distress. emotional,” Hashmall said. “We will discuss next steps with our client. In the meantime, we hope the Bryant and Chester families continue to recover from their tragic loss.”

In September 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an invasion of privacy bill called the “Kobe Bryant Act” that prohibits first responders from sharing photos of a deceased person at a scene of crime “for purposes other than official”. for law enforcement purposes.” The misdemeanor carries a penalty of up to $1,000 per violation.

Coincidentally, the decision was announced on “Kobe Bryant Day,” or August 24, which was created by Los Angeles in 2016 and Orange County in 2020 to honor the Lakers star’s two jersey numbers. 8 and 24. The Lakers retired both numbers.

Bryant intends to use proceeds from the win for his nonprofit organization dedicated to Kobe and Gianna, the Mamba and Mambacita Foundation, to “shed light” on their legacy, Li said in a statement.

“It is Ms. Bryant’s hope that this important civil rights case will put an end to this heinous and callous behavior,” he said.

The defense wanted to separate the emotions from the legality

Deliberations began on Wednesday shortly after a Los Angeles County attorney argued the lawsuit was a ‘picture case without pictures’, noting that the gruesome photos of human remains had never been seen by the court. public – or even by the complainants.

“No photos are fine. No photos means no public release…no chance of other people making mistakes,” county attorney Hashmall said during closing arguments in the trial.

In an emotional rebuttal, Li argued Wednesday that the county’s actions in taking such photos were reckless and inhumane and caused emotional distress.

“They poured salt on an incurable wound and that’s why we are all here today,” he said.

During closing arguments on Wednesday, Los Angeles County attorneys sought to separate Vanessa Bryant’s emotional testimony from the legal issues the jury must consider.

Hashmall argued that the county’s actions to remove the photos resulted in them never being publicly distributed, and she further argued that the first responders taking the photos did not violate Bryant’s rights.

She urged the jury to consider the law, which only allows a verdict against the county if it can be shown that county policies were deficient enough to prevent the photos from being released or if there is a longstanding custom. date of such behavior within the sheriff and the fire. departments.

“If the county didn’t take (the photo sharing) seriously, why is this whole thing based on the county’s investigation?” she says.

The jurors also wrestled with what constitutes “the public” in this case. The plaintiffs argued that any MP without cause of inquiry to have the photos should be considered the public. One of the deputies shared photos containing human remains with another deputy while they were playing the “Call of Duty” video game, and another showed them to a bar patron and a bartender he considered like a friend.

Hashmall agreed it was untrue, but asked the jury to consider whether it “shocks the conscience”, a legal threshold the jury must consider in reaching their verdict.

“Does it shock the conscience that he needed to talk?” Hashmall asked. She also noted that the deputy had been disciplined for his actions. “It’s not a constitutional issue, it’s a county issue,” she said.

Jury selected in Vanessa Bryant v. LA County case over photos from Kobe helicopter crash

In their rebuttal, Bryant’s attorneys argued that the photos may still exist because one of the deputies airlifted them to an unidentified firefighter. They also argued that the county failed to investigate the incident sufficiently, which allowed photos of human remains to surface.

The rebuttal brought tears to both Vanessa Bryant and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka in the courtroom. Li, Bryant’s attorney, said the jury’s decision is “significant for families across the United States who may one day experience tragedy.”

Referring to the testimony of law enforcement veterans, including Sheriff Alex Villanueva, Li reminded the jury of a practice of first responders keeping “books of deaths” since the Polaroid was around. Li told the jury, “It’s been going on for decades. Make it stop.”

Bryant cried audibly and grabbed tissues when Li said photos of the bodies of the torn family members were private and shouldn’t be shared with deputies just “because they’re wearing a badge the next morning, to offer [the photos] to their wife.”

Describing how deputies had to go out of their way to find Gianna Bryant’s remains in a ravine to photograph her, Li asked, “Does this shock the conscience?

Li said that while there is no jury form to check a box for better training, better policies or more discipline, there is only one box jurors can check for damage: “Anything you put in this box will serve to highlight the legacy of Kobe and Gianna Bryant.”

Li concluded by applauding the two whistleblowers, one of whom was seated in the courtroom. Li was moved when he said, “But for those people, we may never have heard of it… There’s another group of people who saw something terribly wrong. You… It’s up to you to stand up and be accountable.”

CNN’s Cheri Mossburg contributed to this report.


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