Kobe's wife said she wanted to run and scream when she heard about the photos of the accident

Kobe’s wife said she wanted to run and scream when she heard about the photos of the accident

A jury awarded Vanessa Bryant $16 million in her lawsuit against Los Angeles County for incorrectly disclosing images of human remains in the helicopter crash that killed her husband, Kobe Bryant, and their daughter, Gianna, along with seven others.
Chris Chester, whose wife Sarah, 45, and daughter Payton, 13, were among those killed in the crash who joined the lawsuit, and will receive $15 million.

Vanessa Bryant, who was wearing a face mask in court, put her hands over her head and burst into tears as the verdict was read. Chester stared straight ahead.

Jerry Jackson, Chester’s attorney, said he and prosecutors are grateful to the jury and Judge John F. Walter, “who gave us a very fair trial.” Bryant and his lawyers declined to comment after reading the ruling.

Mira Hashmol, the city’s lead attorney in the case, said in a statement that she and other members of the county’s legal team disagreed with the ruling.

“We will discuss next steps with our client,” she said. “In the meantime, we hope the Bryant and Chester families will continue to recover from their tragic loss.”

Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant has reached a stature in Southern California that has gone far beyond basketball. On Wednesday, about 14 blocks from the courthouse, a new mural was unveiled celebrating his legacy on “Mamba Day,” a reference to his nickname.

The jury’s decision, which ended a nearly two-week-long federal civil trial, was an unusual and highly significant rebuke of two massive, isolated agencies — the Los Angeles County Police Department and the Los Angeles County Fire Department — that are doing formidable training. Power in the second largest city in the United States.

On a cloudy January morning in 2020, Bryant, 41, and eight others were traveling from Orange County for a youth basketball tournament in a north Los Angeles suburb, when the pilot became disoriented in the clouds. The helicopter crashed into a hill near Calabasas, California, and everyone on board died.

As news of the accident and the identity of the victims spread around the world, law enforcement officers, investigators, journalists and Bryant fans flocked to the crash site on rough terrain.

In the first few hours after the accident, Vanessa Bryant noted in her lawsuit, that Los Angeles County firefighters and sheriffs were allowed to take unnecessary photos of human remains around the site, including the bodies of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, and the photos were shared. between delegates and firefighters.

Vanessa Bryant testified in court that a few days after the public memorial was moved to her husband, to whom she had been married for nearly 20 years, she was told of a Los Angeles Times report that one of the officers, Joey Cruz, had shown the photos. To a police officer, a waiter and a customer at the bar, he filed a complaint with the police department.

“It felt like I was just running and screaming,” Bryant testified. “But I couldn’t escape. I can’t escape from my body.”

Another woman, who is a relative of some of the accident victims, testified that a fire department employee displayed some pictures at a dance where the communications team was receiving a prize. She later complained to the fire department.

In the lawsuit, Bryant accused the county of negligence and violation of its constitutional right to privacy. His attorneys argued that orders from the Fire Department and Police Department officials to delete the footage after investigations began amounted to destroying evidence and attempting to conceal it.

Bryant and Chester sought compensation for the emotional distress caused by concerns that the photos could appear publicly online at any time.

County attorneys have acknowledged that the photos were taken and shared, but said the effort to delete them was broad enough to prevent the photos from appearing in the past two and a half years, and thus the photos were not made public. The photographs were not presented as evidence at trial.

“Demanding privacy and then making all these details public defies logic,” Hashmol said.

County attorneys argued that while some city policies were violated, the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights were not. They said law enforcement, firefighters and other first responders needed the flexibility to document accident scenes before federal investigators or investigators arrived, so the photo-taking was warranted.

The trial was, in some ways, a typical legal spectacle for Los Angeles celebrities. Every day Bryant arrived at the glossy, cube-shaped Federal Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles in a black SUV and sped past photographers as he entered and exited the building.

Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and Kobe’s former manager testified at the trial, and several of Bryant’s friends, including professional soccer player Sidney Lero and singer Ciara, appeared at the show to support her.

The lawsuit was an attempt to hold the authorities accountable for behavior that Bryant and Chester’s lawyers said “shocked the conscience”.

Throughout the trial, attorneys for the mayors and firefighters have been portrayed as motivated by a kind of horrific voyeurism that they say is embedded in the culture of these agencies.

They showed a video of Representative Alex Villanueva talking about how “since the invention of Polaroid,” police officers have created so-called death books, documenting the bodies they saw while on the job.

The agencies did not have clear policies that would prevent officers from taking pictures of human remains, so the practice continued unchecked until citizens spoke up.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that the agencies’ internal efforts to investigate what happened in Bryant’s case were indifferent and incomplete.

Villanueva, who testified shortly after Bryant, testified that she offered an “amnesty” to officers for providing the footage and then deleted it.

In closing arguments, Craig Lavoie, who represented Bryant, showed the jury a flowchart of how the photos would unfold. There were question marks on the graph of people who received the photos, according to witness statements or official reports, but their electronic devices were never investigated.

“If I asked all of you to give a percentage of the chance of these images coming online, I would have nine different answers,” Lavoie told the jury. “But nothing will be zero. And when your husband, your daughter, you don’t have the luxury of cold proportions.”

Jerry Jackson, Chester’s attorney, asked the jury to consider awarding up to $75 million to the plaintiffs — $2.5 million each for past suffering, plus about $1 million ($5.1 million) for each year of remaining life expectancy. , a formula that would amount to $30 million ($153.5 million BRL) for Chester and $40 million ($204.7 million BRL) for Bryant.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you can’t pay that much for what they’ve been through,” Jackson said.

and asked the jury to divide the burden of paying damages equally between the sheriff and the fire department; Both are funded by Los Angeles County taxpayers.

In their closing arguments, county attorneys said that the case ultimately concerned the photographs that virtually no one had seen.

“This is a case of photos, but there are no photos,” Hashmol said.

The jury objected, saying that the failure of both agencies to train employees on the right to privacy was a constitutional violation. They also concluded that the Police Department’s practice of taking and sharing photographs of human remains violated Bryant and Chester’s constitutional rights.

The deliberation took less than five hours.

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