LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant’s widow was awarded $16 million Wednesday in a $31 million jury verdict against Los Angeles County deputies and firefighters sharing gruesome photos with an NBA starhis 13-year-old daughter and other victims who died in a helicopter crash in 2020.
The nine jurors unanimously agreed Vanessa Bryant and her attorneys that the photos invaded her privacy and caused her emotional distress. She cried quietly as it was read.
Jurors deliberated for 4 1/2 hours before reaching their verdict on Kobe Bryant Day, which is celebrated in Los Angeles on Aug. 24, because it features his jersey numbers — 8 and 24 — and this is the day after his birthday. He would have turned 44 on Tuesday.
After the sentencing, Vanessa Bryant posted a photo on Instagram of herself with her husband and daughter.
“Everything for you!” – read the signature. “I love you! JUSTICE for Kobe and Gigi!”
The district attorney declined to comment on the verdict outside the courtroom.
Photos were shared mainly between Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies and fire departments including some who played video games and attended the awards banquet. They were also seen by some of the spouses and in one case by the bartender at the bar where the deputy was drinking.
Vanessa Bryant testified with tears during the 11-day trial, news of the photos compounded her grief, which was still palpable a month after losing her husband and daughter, and that she still suffers panic attacks at the thought that they might still be there.
“I live in fear of being on social media every day, and they pop up,” she testified. “I live in fear that my daughters will be on social media and that they will show up.”
Her co-defendant Chris Chester, whose wife and daughter were also among the nine people killed in the crash, received $15 million.
“We are grateful to the jury and judge who gave us a fair trial,” said Chester’s attorney, Jerry Jackson.
Attorneys for Vanessa Bryant did not give jurors the dollar amount they believed their client deserved, but Chester’s attorney gave them recommendations that would amount to tens of millions for each plaintiff.
Vanessa Bryant and her attorney declined to comment outside court Wednesday. Her face was still full of tears as she walked past TV cameras and dozens of reporters and climbed into the SUV.
Vanessa Bryant’s attorney, Louis Lee, told jurors that the close-up photos had no official or investigative purpose, but were simply “visual gossip” shared out of eerie curiosity.
District Attorney J. Meera Heshmal argued during the trial that the photographs were a necessary tool to assess the situation.
She admitted that she shouldn’t have shared them with everyone who saw them. But she emphasized that the photos were never made public and were never even seen by the plaintiffs. She said that means Sheriff Alex Villanueva and other officials took decisive and effective action when they ordered those who had the photos to remove them.
Kobe Bryant, former Lakers star, five-time NBA champion and member basketball hall of fame, was traveling with Jana and seven others to a youth basketball game when the helicopter they were on crashed into the hills of Calabasas, west of Los Angeles, on January 26, 2020.
Federal security services blamed pilot error for the accident.
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