Bryant was awarded $16 million in damages and Chris Chester was awarded $15 million.
As soon as the verdict was read, Bryant hugged his lawyer. While continuing to cry, Bryant then tearfully hugged his daughter Natalia in the front row. He left the courthouse without making a statement.
“While we disagree with the jury’s findings regarding County liability, we believe the monetary award demonstrates that the jury does not believe the evidence supports Plaintiffs’ $75 million request for emotional distress,” said County attorney Mira Hashmall, who is presiding outside. LA County advisor. “We will be discussing next steps with our client. In the meantime, we wish the Bryant and Chester families a continued recovery from their tragic loss.”
A federal jury found both the Sheriff and the Fire Department did not have the proper policies and training that led to the rights violation. The only plaintiff’s claim not supported by the jury was in the finding that the county fire department was not responsible for the old practice or habit of taking illegal photos. The sheriff’s department was found responsible for the same problem.
Bryant and Chester argued that photos of their loved ones caused emotional distress and violated their privacy. Each testified to living in fear the photos might appear, despite the LA County statement that each photo had been destroyed.
The jury listened to graphic testimony for 11 days. Witnesses during the trial included a deputy who said he showed graphic images of the scene while in 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 firefighter showing the image to other personnel during the award ceremony cocktail hour.
Coincidentally, Los Angeles has designated Wednesday, August 24, as “Kobe Bryant Day” in honor of the two Los Angeles Lakers star numbers, 8 and 24, that he wore throughout his NBA career. The Lakers have retired both numbers.
Defense wants to separate emotion from legality
Talks began Wednesday shortly after a lawyer for Los Angeles County argued the trial was a “picture-free case,” noting that the gruesome photos of human remains were never actually seen by the public — or even the plaintiffs.
“No good picture. No picture means no public dissemination… no risk of someone else making a mistake,” said district attorney Mira Hashmall in closing arguments for the trial.
In an emotional rebuttal, Bryant’s lawyer, Luis Li, on Wednesday argued that the county’s actions in taking such photos were reckless and inhumane and caused emotional distress.
“They poured salt on wounds that couldn’t heal and that’s why we are all here today,” he said.
During Wednesday’s closing arguments, attorneys for Los Angeles County sought to separate Vanessa Bryant’s emotional testimony from legal issues for the jury to consider.
Hashmall argued the county’s action to remove the photos resulted in them never being distributed publicly, and he further argued that the first responders who took the photos did not violate Bryant’s rights.
He urged jurors to consider legislation, which only allows convictions against the county if it can be proven that county policy is insufficient to prevent the spread of the photo or if there is a long-standing habit of such behavior within the sheriff and fire. department.
“If the county doesn’t take (photo sharing) seriously, why is this whole case based on a county investigation?” he says.
The jury is also grappling with what constitutes “public” in this case. The plaintiffs argued that any deputies without investigation grounds to possess the photos should be considered public. One of the deputies shared a photo of human remains with other deputies as they played the video game “Call of Duty,” and another showed it to a bartender he considered a friend.
Hashmall agreed it was wrong, but asked the jury to consider whether it was a “shock of conscience,” the legal threshold that a jury must consider in delivering its verdict.
“Does it shock conscience that he needs to talk?” Hasmal asked. He also noted that the deputy was disciplined for his actions. “It’s not a constitutional issue, it’s a regional problem,” he said.
In their rebuttal, Bryant’s lawyers argued the photos may still exist because one of their deputies AirDropped it to a firefighter who had yet to be identified. They also argue that the area did not adequately investigate the incident, which would allow photographs of human remains to potentially surface.
The rebuttal drew tears from Vanessa Bryant and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka in the courtroom. Li, Bryant’s attorney, said the jury’s decision was “important to families across the United States who may suffer a tragedy one day.”
Referring to testimony given by veteran law enforcement officials including Sheriff Alex Villanueva, Li reminded jurors of the practice of first responders keeping “books of death” since the Polaroids existed. Li told the jury: “This has been going on for decades. Stop it.”
Bryant burst into tears and grabbed a tissue when Li stated that photos of the torn bodies of family members were private and should not be shared with deputies just “because they wore badges the next morning, to offer [the photos] to their wives.”
Explaining how deputies had to go to great lengths to find Gianna Bryant’s body in the ravine to photograph it, Li asked, “Does it shock conscience?”
Li says while there is no jury form to check the box for better training, better policy, or more discipline, there is only a jury box that can check for damage: “Whatever you put in the box will serve to shine a light on the legacy. from Kobe and Gianna Bryant.”
Li concluded by clapping for the two whistleblowers, one of whom sat in the courtroom. Li was very emotional when he said: “But for those people, we may not have heard of this.”
CNN’s Cheri Mossburg contributed to this report.