A federal jury this week ordered Los Angeles County to pay $31 million in damages over the actions of first-responders who snapped and shared gruesome photos from the scene of the 2020 helicopter crash that killed Laker legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven other people.
The damages were awarded to Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, and co-plaintiff Chris Chester, whose wife Sarah and 13-year-old daughter Payton also died in the Jan. 26, 2020, crash on a Calabasas hillside. The jury awarded Bryant $16 million and Chester $15 million.
Jurors in downtown Los Angeles reached their verdict after roughly four and a half hours of deliberations. Vanessa Bryant wept as the verdict was announced.
The damages awarded to the plaintiffs cover past pain and suffering and future emotional damage. The jury found that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles County Fire Department violated Bryant and Chester’s constitutional rights.
The jury’s verdict came one day after what would have been Kobe Bryant’s 44th birthday, and it happened on “Mamba Day” in Los Angeles, which celebrates his life each year on Aug. 24, or 8-24, the two numbers he wore during his 20-year career with the Lakers.
An attorney for Chester had asked the panel to compel the county to pay a total of $75 million split between Kobe Bryant’s widow and Chester for pain and suffering engendered when the pictures were snapped and displayed for no good reason to a bartender, attendees of an awards ceremony and sent by a sheriff’s deputy to a colleague while they were playing a video game.
The plaintiffs argued that county personnel took graphic cell-phone pictures of human remains at the remote Calabasas crash site for their own amusement as “souvenirs” and shared them with other law enforcement personnel and members of the public.
The county has not disputed that some photos were shared with a small number of deputies and firefighters. Defense attorneys maintained that all images taken by first responders were destroyed on orders of the sheriff and fire chief, and no longer exist in any form. The photos never entered the public domain or appeared on the internet, the county insisted.