On what would have been Kobe Bryant’s 44th birthday, attorneys for his widow and a co-plaintiff urged a jury Tuesday to consider awarding millions of dollars for emotional distress and violation of constitutional rights caused by Los Angeles County deputies and firefighters taking and sharing of close-up images of their loved ones’ remains.
The lawsuit filed by Vanessa Bryant and co-plaintiff Christopher Chester against Los Angeles County is centered on the photos taken after the helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna, as well as Chester’s wife Sarah, daughter Payton and five others on January 26, 2000.
Witnesses during the trial included a deputy who said he showed graphic images from the scene while at a bar, another deputy who said he shared photos while playing a video game, a deputy who sent dozens of photos to someone he didn’t know, and a fire official who showed the images to other personnel during an awards ceremony cocktail hour.
“You can’t award too much money for what they went through,” said Jerry Jackson, who represents Chester, in his closing arguments. “What they went through is inhuman and inhumane.”
Bryant and Chester should each be awarded $2.5 million for the pain they’ve already suffered, plus another amount between $100,000 and $1 million for each year of the remainder of their lives, Jackson said.
That would bring the total to between $6.5 million and $42.5 million for Bryant and between $5.5 million and $32.5 million for Chester, he said.
Vanessa Bryant left courtroom at one point
Craig Lavoie, an attorney representing Bryant, began his closing argument by acknowledging Kobe Bryant’s 44th birthday: “It is an honor to stand here asking for justice and accountability” on the Bryants’ behalf.
Vanessa Bryant cried and was comforted by her attorney Luis Li as Lavoie revisited how Fire Capt. Brian Jordan had allegedly photographed the remains of Gianna Bryant.
At the end of Lavoie’s arguments, Bryant buried her eyes in a tissue before getting up and walking out. She returned for the conclusion of arguments from Chester’s attorney.
Los Angeles County maintains its handling of the photos ultimately resulted in their successful deletion and argues it is being sued for photos that haven’t ever been public. But Lavoie told jurors the county can’t ensure that because one of its deputies airdropped the photos to a fire captain that is still unidentified and Jordan’s laptop was missing a hard drive when it was turned into the county.
Lavoie said Bryant and Chester must live knowing “either the photos will surface and all their fears will be realized, or they will live in fear for the rest of their lives over when that day will come,” he said.
Lavoie reminded the jury that in a federal civil suit, one does not need to prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt; instead, the jury is asked to determine whether Los Angeles County, more likely than not, violated Bryant’s and Chester’s constitutional rights due to inadequate policies or training, and/or a custom or practice of taking illicit photos of the deceased.
On Tuesday, Bryant posted an Instagram message for Kobe, wishing him a happy birthday.
“Happy birthday, baby! I love you and miss you so much,” she wrote.
Filed in September 2020, the lawsuit seeks undisclosed damages, claiming civil rights violations, negligence, emotional distress and violation of privacy.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Chester's role in the lawsuit; he is a co-plaintiff. It also gave an incorrect title for Dennis Breshears; he is a former assistant fire chief. An earlier caption on this story misidentified the woman to the right of Vanessa Bryant. It is the singer Monica.