LOS ANGELES — On the 44th anniversary of the birth of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, an attorney for his widow Vanessa asked a jury in federal court on Tuesday to rule on his and his daughter’s behalf, more than two years after their deaths.
This was the 10th day of Vanessa Bryant’s civil trial against Los Angeles County, another day of tears for her and the last day of testimony after hearing dozens of witnesses. It was also the first day of closing arguments and the first time an attorney in the case put a dollar amount on what he wants the jury to award to Bryant and Chris Chester, her co-plaintiff at this trial:
Chester’s attorney, Jerome Jackson, asked for up to $2.5 million each for their past 2.5 years of emotional distress, plus up to $1 million for each year of their future distress — 40 years for Bryant and 30 for Chester.
“When I get to this point of closing arguments, I’m usually afraid not to ask for too much,” Jackson told the jury in the closing arguments. “I don’t have that fear today, because I’ll tell you ladies and gentlemen, you can’t give too much money for what they’ve been through. You can’t stack it too high. You can’t spread it too widely. What they have been through is inhumane and inhumane.”
Bryant did not ask for a specific amount.
Both she and Chester took the case to court after suing the county in 2020, just months after they each lost their husbands and daughters in a helicopter crash that killed all nine on board in Calabasas, California. They don’t blame the province for the crash itself, but for what happened next. They both accused the county sheriff’s staff and the fire department of using their personal phones to take graphical photos of their deceased loved ones at the scene of the accident, despite having no legitimate business reason to do so.
The county says the photos were never posted online and were removed shortly after the crash. But Bryant and Chester say they live in fear of the photos resurfacing because there’s no way to know for sure if they still exist somewhere, ready to pop up anytime.
“Forty-four years ago today, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Kobe Bryant was born,” Bryant’s attorney Craig Jennings Lavoie told the jury as he began his closing argument. “Today is his birthday. It is an honor to represent Ms here. Bryant is asking for justice and accountability on his behalf, and on her behalf, and on behalf of their daughter Gianna, who would be 16 if she were still with us.”
TRIAL COVERAGE: Vanessa Bryant Gives Emotional Testimony
CRASH PHOTOS: Trial was graphically gruesome. Does it have to be?
Bryant wore black during the trial on Tuesday, posting her first public Instagram post since the trial began on Aug. 10. It was a photo of her and Kobe with a comment:
“Happy birthday baby! I love you and miss you so much!”
Her memory soon turned to grief in court, where the trial is nearing its end. After closing arguments resume on Wednesday morning, the jury of five men and four women will be tasked with making a series of decisions on the case:
►Have these county first responders violated Bryant and Chester’s constitutional privacy rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by publicly distributing these crash scene photos, ostensibly to use them as “souvenirs” or entertainment items?
►If so, is the province as an organization liable for this?
►And if so, how much should the jury award them in return for their past and future emotional distress?
Jennings Lavoie guided the jury through the key points of the evidence at the trial, including the conflicting statements of those who took and shared the photos, as well as the two main public incidents where county workers shared photos of the crash scene. One involved fire chief Tony Imbrenda showing crash photos at an awards ceremony in February 2020, when a witness testified that she heard the photos contained an image of Kobe’s “burnt” body, which Imbrenda denied at trial.
In another case, Jennings Lavoie told the jury that the “clearest example” of a violation came from the sheriff’s assistant trainee Joey Cruz, who showed photos of the crash scene in a restaurant bar two days after the crash.
Jennings Lavoie also brought up the case of fire chief Brian Jordan, who, according to the fire service, came to the scene after the crash and took unnecessary photos of dead bodies. Jordan testified that he was commissioned to take photos of the accident site by Anthony Marrone, currently the acting chief.
But Marrone testified this week that that was not true. He also said that Jordan at one point sent him the location of Gianna Bryant’s remains in a ravine at the crash site.
“Based on that, Chief Marrone understood that Brian Jordan had his eye on her…in that ravine,” Jennings Lavoie said.
Jennings Lavoie then accused Jordan of taking “personal souvenir photos of a deceased child, not for business purposes, but because he wanted to give these photos to himself, to take home as trophies.”
Sitting at the prosecutors’ table in front of the jury, Bryant wiped her eyes with a tissue as Jennings Lavoie delved into the subject.
“Could you imagine?” Jennings Lavoie asked the jury. “It’s up to you to decide whether that shocks the conscience. It shocks the conscience times 1,000. And he publicly distributed those photos after he took them by giving them to himself (and) disappearing from the scene that day.”
In December 2020, the Fire Department sent Jordan a letter of “intent to fire him” for his misuse of such photos, stating that the photos “served only to appeal to lower instincts and desires for what amounted to visual gossip’. Jordan decided to retire early instead. He testified last week that he was in court on “false charges”, that he could not remember being at the scene of the accident that day and claimed not to know who Gianna Bryant even was.
Destruction of Evidence
Jordan was also asked in court last week what had happened to his computer’s hard drive, which was missing when he had to turn it in to his employer. He said he had no idea, leading prosecutors’ lawyers to imply it may still contain horrific photos that could reappear at any moment.
This was another important part of the plaintiffs’ case: the destruction of evidence. Because county officials removed photos shortly after the crash, the plaintiffs are unable to show exactly what was in the photos or where they went. Their lawyers instead had to elicit witness statements about what they contained and then match them with descriptions of the victims of the accident.
“You can assume that the evidence would have been bad for them,” Jennings Lavoie told the jury.
Jennings Lavoie also told the jury about the plaintiffs’ theory that the county is liable for the conduct of its employees in this case because it lacked adequate policies or training to prevent it. He showed the jury video footage of LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva giving an interview in which he said officers have a long tradition of taking and sharing horrific death photos from accidents or crime scenes.
“It’s been tolerated for decades,” Jennings Lavoie told the jury.
The county disputes this, but the jury will first have to determine whether the county employees violated Bryant and Chester’s rights in this case.
Chester’s attorney asked the jury to attribute half of the damage to the sheriff and the other half to the fire department.
“They stole his dignity and his family’s privacy,” Jackson said of his client. “They did it on purpose. They did it cruelly. They did it inhumanely. And they laughed at it, and they lied about it. And then they tried to fight it with a clumsy, sloppy and stupid cover-up where sometimes they don’t even get their story straight.” could keep.”
On Wednesday, the province will make its closing plea to the jury.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kobe Bryant Photo Trial: Jury Pushes for $75 Million to Plaintiffs