The Associated Press reported from Los Angeles that Vanessa Bryant, Kobe Bryant’s widow, was awarded on Wednesday $16 million as part of a $31 million jury verdict against Los Angeles County for deputies and firefighters sharing grisly photos of Kobe, the NBA star, his 13-year-old daughter and other victims killed in a 2020 helicopter crash.
Jury deliberation was brief, lasting merely 4 1/2 hours before reaching the verdict. The nine jurors unanimously agreed with Vanessa Bryant and her attorneys that the photos invaded her privacy and caused emotional distress. She cried quietly as it was read. The verdict was issued on what has become known as “Kobe Bryant Day,” and is celebrated in Los Angeles on August 24 because it represents Kobe’s jersey numbers — 8 and 24 — and is the day after his birthday. Tuesday would have been Bryant’s 44th birthday.
The pictures were shared mostly between employees of the LA County sheriff’s and fire departments including by some who were playing video games and attending an awards banquet. They were also seen by some of their spouses and in one case by a bartender at a bar where a deputy was drinking.
As reported, Vanessa Bryant tearfully testified during the 11-day trial that news of the photos compounded her still-raw grief a month after losing her husband and daughter, and that she still has panic attacks at the thought that they might still be out there. “I live in fear every day of being on social media and these popping up,” she testified. “I live in fear of my daughters being on social media and these popping up.”
The AP reported, additionally, that County attorney J. Mira Hashmall argued during the trial that the photos were a necessary tool for assessing the situation. Her arguments were, evidently, not persuasive. Hashmall acknowledged that the photos should not have been shared with everyone who saw them. Hashmall emphasized, however, that the photos had never appeared publicly, and had never even been seen by the Vanessa Bryant or her co-plaintiff, Chris Chester. Hashmall made the argument that Sheriff Alex Villanueva and other officials had taken decisive and effective action when they ordered those who had the photos to delete them.
Vanessa Bryant’s lawyer Luis Li told jurors that the close-up photos had no official or investigative purpose, and were mere “visual gossip” shared out of a gruesome curiosity. Vanessa Bryant’s co-plaintiff, Chris Chester, whose wife and daughter were also among the nine people killed in the crash, was awarded $15 million. Jerry Jackson, Chester’s lawyer, said, “We’re grateful for a jury and a judge who gave us a fair trial.” An attorney for the county declined comment on the verdict outside the courtroom.
Kobe Bryant, the former Lakers star, five-time NBA champion and member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, was traveling with Gianna and seven others to a youth basketball game when the helicopter they were aboard crashed into hills in Calabasas west of Los Angeles on Jan. 26, 2020. Federal safety officials blamed pilot error for the crash.
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