A federal jury has found that Los Angeles County must pay Vanessa Bryant $16 million dollars after first responders snapped and shared grisly photos of the fatal 2020 helicopter crash that killed her husband, 13-year old daughter and seven others.
The panel of nine jurors agreed that deputies and firefighters invaded the privacy of Kobe Bryant’s widow and brought her emotional distress by taking photos of the remains of the NBA star and his daughter Gianna.
Vanessa Bryant, 40, wept quietly as the verdict was read following 4 1/2 hurs of jury deliberation, and walked out of court holding the hand of her 19-year-old daughter Natalia.
After leaving court Wednesday, Bryant posted a picture to Instagram of her posing with her late husband — known on the hardwood as the Black Mamba — and daughter.
“All for you! I love you! JUSTICE for Kobe and Gigi! #Betonyourself #MambaDay 8•24•22 #MambaMentality,” the caption read, accompanied by a series of hearts.
The jurors also awarded $15 million to plaintiff Chris Chester, who lost his wife Sarah and daughter Payton in the Calabasas, California wreck.
Jurors unanimously found that the LA County Sheriff’s Department violated the constitutional rights of Bryant and Chester when they failed to train their employees on accident scene picture-sharing protocol.
During closing statements earlier Wednesday — the 11th day of the trial — county defense attorneys argued there wasn’t enough evidence to prove first responders shared the crash-site photos with the public.
“The evidence isn’t there,” defense attorney Mira Hashmall told the jury hours before the verdict was reached. “This is a pictures case but there are no pictures.”
Bryant’s attorney, Luis Li told the jury the photos were “not public and not [for] deputies to share.”
The pictures were shared mostly between employees of the LA County sheriff’s and fire departments and seen by some of their spouses.
Earlier this month, a bartender testified that Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Joey Cruz showed him photos of Kobe Bryant’s remains.
In their unanimous decision, the jury said they did not believe first responders had a custom or practice of sharing photos of deceased victims, only that they lacked sufficient training.
In his closing argument, Li said the outcome of the trial would not only affect Vanessa Bryant and Chester, but could set a precedent regarding similar policies across the country on how sensitive pictures should be handled by first responders and law enforcement.
Chester’s attorney Jerry Jackson argued the widow should be awarded $42.5 million and his client should be awarded $32.5 million for past and future emotional distress caused by the images.
“Grateful to a jury and judge that gave us a fair trial,” Jackson told reporters after the verdict was handed down.
Li declined to comment when asked for a reaction by The Post.
“The jury sent a message that any form of unprofessionalism or insensitivity on the part of law enforcement will not be tolerated,” Lou Shapiro, a federal attorney and legal analyst, told The Post.
“It’s clear that the witnesses for the Sheriff’s Department did not come across as credible to the jury in terms of them trying to downplay the incident,” said Shapiro.
The photos had not been made public, but Bryant, 40 testified that the prospect of the images being leaked riddled her with fear and anxiety.
“I live in fear every day of being on social media and these popping up,” she testified last week.
“I live in fear of my daughters being on social media and these popping up.”
A lawyer representing the county said the verdict was a mixed bag, and said it was exploring ”next steps.”
“We are grateful for the jury’s hard work in this case,” lead counsel Mira Hashmall wrote in a statement.
“While we disagree with the jury’s findings as to the County’s liability, we believe the monetary award shows that jurors didn’t believe the evidence supported the Plaintiffs’ request of $75 million for emotional distress.
Coincidentally, the verdict came on the same day the City of Los Angeles observes “Kobe Bryant Day,” which was instituted on Aug. 24, 2016 after the Lakers legend’s retirement.
Tuesday would have been the basketball star’s 44th birthday.
With AP wires