A lawyer for a man who lost his wife and daughter in the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant asked a Los Angeles federal jury on Tuesday to award him and the NBA star’s widow tens of millions of dollars each over photos of the wreck shared by first responders.
Chris Chester — whose wife Sarah and daughter Payton, 13, were among the nine people killed in the January 2020 crash — should be awarded $32.5 million and Vanessa Bryant should get $42.5 million total for past and future emotional distress caused by the images, attorney Jerry Jackson said.
“The evidence in this case is dramatic and tragic,” Jackson said to jurors during closing arguments in the trial over the photos. “It demolished [Chester’s] right … and stole his dignity inhumanely … and they laughed about it.”
Bryant and Chester are suing Los Angeles County for invasion of privacy and emotional distress over the pictures of the tragic crash that killed Lakers legend, Kobe Bryant, 41; the Bryants’ daughter Gianna, 13, and seven others in Calabasas, California.
Closing arguments from each of their attorneys were delivered Tuesday, the 10th day of the trial, and what would have been Kobe Bryant’s 44th birthday.
“Forty-four years ago today in Philadelphia, Penn., Kobe Bryant was born,” Craig La Voie, attorney for Vanessa Bryant said at the start of his statement. “Today is his birthday and it’s an honor to stand here to represent Mrs. Bryant.”
“We are asking for justice on her behalf and on the behalf of her daughter Gianna, who would be 16 if she were still with us.. if not for a devastating, life shattering accident,” La Voie continued. “But we’re not here because of an accident. We are here because of an intentional conduct.”
The late basketball star’s wife, who sat in the courtroom dressed in all black, sobbed softly as her attorney spoke. She was joined by singer Monica, who sat in the court audience, for the second day in a row.
Earlier in the day, the 40-year-old widow shared a heartfelt Instagram post wishing her late husband a happy birthday next to a photo of herself wrapped in his arms.
“Happy birthday, baby! I love you and miss you so much! #44 ❤️ @kobebryant,” she wrote.
County employees from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and County Fire Department violated Vanessa Bryant and Chester’s constitutional rights by sharing the crash scene photos with members of the public, La Voie said.
He accused numerous deputies and firefighters of showing off the photos — which reportedly included severed body parts strewn around a hillside — to family members, friends and a bartender as well as at a gala awards event.
In one instance, Deputy Joey Cruz showed the gruesome pictures to Norwalk, Calif. bartender Victor Gutierrez who testified that the law enforcement officer had shared the shots with him.
An internal affairs probe found that Cruz and other deputies violated several department policies over the way they handled the crash pictures and the rebuke will remain in their personnel records.
However, La Voie added that more people likely saw the photos as well who weren’t identified during the internal department probes. He said deputies and firefighter who received the photos wiped their phones clean before they were processed in the investigations.
La Voie added the NBA star’s widow suffers from constant anxiety that the gruesome pictures could resurface someday.
“She’s scared and afraid, and when she goes to bed, she thinks about those pictures,” La Voie said. “Someday she will have to explain (to her other children) … what the Sheriff’s Department did to them while they where vulnerable on that hill. Kobe valued family and he couldn’t protect her. She’s haunted that these images will come out.”
Jackson, Chester’s attorney, claimed the first responders joked about the stomach-turning photos at an awards gala, which reportedly included a pic of Kobe Bryant’s torso.
US District Judge John Walter had previously consolidated Bryant’s and Chester’s lawsuit.
Jackson said Chester had to quit his job as a financial advisor and was traumatized after the death of his beloved wife and daughter. The 48-year old sank into an even deeper depression and he took to drinking after he found out pictures of their remains were being shared like a souvenir by first responders, the attorney added.
“The never apologized, never reached out to Mr. Chester,” Jackson told jurors. “They never cared.”
The defense will provide their closing arguments tomorrow, after which the jury in the case will begin deliberations. The judge told jurors that they will be required to deliberate until 4 p.m. each day until they come to a decision.