Jury reaches verdict in trial over Kobe Bryant helicopter crash site photos

Vanessa Bryant wants to "shine a light on Kobe and Gigi's legacy."

August 25, 2022, 9:40 PM

A jury awarded Vanessa Bryant $16 million in her invasion of privacy trial against Los Angeles County over photos taken at the scene of the 2020 helicopter crash that killed her husband, basketball star Kobe Bryant, and their 13-year-old daughter, according to ABC Los Angeles station KABC.

Vanessa Bryant's lawyer announced Thursday that she would be donating the proceeds to the lawsuit judgement to Mamba and Mambacita Foundation, according to her lawyer.

"From the beginning, Vanessa Bryant has sought only accountability, but our legal system does not permit her to force better policies, more training or officer discipline. Those measures are the responsibility of the Sheriffs and Fire Departments – responsibilities that Mrs. Bryant's efforts have exposed as woefully deficient, even giving amnesty to the wrongdoers," the statement read.

The statements also expressed gratitude to the "good Samaritans who brought to light the decades old practice of taking and sharing photos of accident and crime victims for no legitimate purpose."

The statement continued, "It is Mrs. Bryant's hope that this important civil rights case will put to a stop this abhorrent and callous behavior. Mrs. Bryant intends that proceeds from this judgment will go to the Mamba and Mambacita foundation to shine a light on Kobe and Gigi's legacy."

The jury also awarded $15 million to Chris Chester, an Orange County financial adviser who had also sued the county over photos taken of his wife and daughter, who were killed in the same crash, according to KABC.

The jury deliberated for several hours before reaching the verdict.

"All for you! I love you! JUSTICE for Kobe and Gigi!" Vanessa Bryant posted on Instagram following the verdict.

PHOTO: Vanessa Bryant, wife of the late Los Angeles Lakers basketball player Kobe Bryant, departs the court house after a verdict in her lawsuit in Los Angeles, Aug. 24, 2022.
Vanessa Bryant, wife of the late Los Angeles Lakers basketball player Kobe Bryant, departs the court house after a verdict in her lawsuit in Los Angeles, Aug. 24, 2022. A jury ordered Los Angeles County to pay $31 million in damages Wednesday over graphic photos taken by sheriff's deputies and firefighters of the helicopter crash that killed basketball star Kobe Bryant.
Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

In a statement to KABC, Mira Hashmall, partner at the Miller Barondess law firm and lead outside counsel for Los Angeles County in the case, said, "We are grateful for the jury's hard work in this case. 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. We will be discussing next steps with our client. Meanwhile, we hope the Bryant and Chester families continue to heal from their tragic loss."

The federal trial began on Aug. 10, with the jury hearing from those in law enforcement, first responders and the family of the victims, including Vanessa Bryant and Chester. Attorneys gave closing statements on Tuesday and Wednesday after nearly two weeks of testimony.

Vanessa Bryant filed a lawsuit several months after the 2020 crash against Los Angeles County, alleging that first responders took graphic photos of human remains at the scene as "souvenirs" and shared them with others. She claimed she suffered emotional distress and sued for an undisclosed amount of damages for negligence and invasion of privacy.

In July, U.S. District Judge John Walter decided to consolidate Vanessa Bryant's and Chester's cases into one trial.

Kobe Bryant and their daughter, Gianna, were headed to a basketball game at his Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks along with others connected to the basketball program on Jan. 26, 2020, when the helicopter they were traveling in crashed in Calabasas. All nine people on board were killed.

Vanessa Bryant took the stand in Los Angeles federal court on Friday, telling the jury she lives in fear every day that the photos could be leaked and wants "justice for my husband and my daughter."

PHOTO: Gianna Bryant and her father, former NBA player Kobe Bryant, attend the WNBA All-Star Game 2019in Las Vegas, July 27, 2019.
Gianna Bryant and her father, former NBA player Kobe Bryant, attend the WNBA All-Star Game 2019in Las Vegas, July 27, 2019.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images, FILE

Chester took the witness stand on Thursday, telling the jury he was in "disbelief" after hearing reports that deputies and firefighters took and shared photos of his wife, Sarah, and their 13-year-old daughter, Payton.

"It was grief on top of grief," he said, calling for "justice and accountability."

Throughout the trial, the defense maintained that the photos have not surfaced online since the tragedy. Multiple county fire and sheriff's personnel have also testified that they deleted whatever crash-site pictures they had on their cellphones.

PHOTO: An aerial view shows the site of a helicopter crash that claimed the lives of former NBA great Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Bryant, 13, in Calabasas, Calif., Jan. 26, 2020.
An aerial view shows the site of a helicopter crash that claimed the lives of former NBA great Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Bryant, 13, in Calabasas, Calif., Jan. 26, 2020.
Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images, FILE

Both Vanessa Bryant's and Chester's lawsuits argue that the photos were shared before being deleted by first responders.

The jury was instructed that they could find either the county sheriff's office or fire department, or both, to be liable, and that Vanessa Bryant or Chester, or both, were warranted damages.

ABC News' Marilyn E. Heck contributed to this report.

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