A federal jury in Los Angeles has sided with Vanessa Bryant and another man who lost relatives in the January 2020 helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others.
The jury returned its verdict Wednesday afternoon, ordering Los Angeles County to pay a total of $31 million in damages to Bryant and co-plaintiff Chris Chester, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The two filed separate civil lawsuits against the county, saying they suffered emotional pain after first responders snapped and allegedly passed around gruesome photos of the victims’ remains.
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Under the terms of the verdict, jurors awarded Bryant, who lost her husband and 13-year-old daughter Gianna in the crash, $16 million. Chris Chester, whose wife Sarah and 13-year-old daughter Payton died in the crash, was awarded $15 million.
The verdict came on “Mamba Day” in Los Angeles, an annual celebration of the life and career of Kobe Bryant, who was nicknamed “Black Mamba.” The celebration takes place on Aug. 24 — or 8/24, in a tribute to the uniform numbers 8 and 24 that he wore during his career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
The trial began in the leaked photos case on Aug. 10 in downtown L.A.
Just before it got underway, a federal judge ruled to combine Vanessa Bryant’s trial with that of Chester, a financial advisor from Orange County, California, who made similar allegations as Bryant saying employees from the L.A. County sheriff’s and fire departments improperly took crash scene photos for personal use and shared them with others.
Bryant’s suit said she suffered emotional distress from the photo ordeal, and alleged negligence, invasion of privacy, and a violation of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which says no state should deny any person within its jurisdiction equal protection of the law.
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During the trial, Bryant took the stand and gave tearful testimony.
“I expected them to have more compassion, respect,” she said about the first responders. “My husband and my daughter deserve dignity.”
The mother and widow added that she lives in fear that the pictures will end up on the internet.
“I’m worried about any photographs that might identify my husband and daughter becoming public,” she told jurors.
The helicopter slammed into a hillside in Calabasas on Jan. 26, 2020.
On the day of the crash, Bryant said she went to the sheriff’s station near the site. She testified Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva informed her that her husband and daughter had died. She recalled the sheriff asked if there was anything he could do to help, and she asked him to secure the crash site.
“I’m concerned about paparazzi,” she recalled telling Villanueva. She said he assured her authorities had established a “no-flight” zone over the wreckage.
But in the weeks after the crash, details emerged in media reports saying a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy had shown horrifying pictures of the victims’ body parts to people in a bar. Another county employee allegedly showed photos to attendees at an awards gala.