A federal jury on Wednesday ruled in favor of Vanessa Bryant, bringing an end to the extraordinary trial in which she sued Los Angeles officials for invasion of privacy for taking and circulating photographs of the bodies at the helicopter crash that killed her husband Kobe Bryant, their daughter Gianna, and seven others.
After deliberating for only a few hours, the jury determined Los Angeles County must pay Bryant $16 million in damages. Jurors also awarded coplaintiff Christopher Chester, whose wife and daughter died in the crash, $15 million. Bryant broke down sobbing as the court clerk read the verdict, according to reporters in the courtroom.
Lawyers for Bryant and Chester had said that pictures of the victims were taken at the scene by a deputy and a fire captain before being shown to colleagues and friends. One piece of surveillance footage played at the trial showed an off-duty deputy drinking at a bar and showing them to a disturbed bartender.
The photographs have never publicly emerged — something that defense attorneys underscored during closing arguments, calling it a “pictures case with no pictures.” (Officials later ordered the pictures be deleted.)
"No pictures is good,” Mira Hashmall, an attorney for Los Angeles County, told the jury. “No pictures means no public dissemination ... no risk of other people making mistakes.”
But Bryant testified that she lives in constant fear that the images will leak — something that she said keeps her up at night and sometimes causes her to have panic attacks.
“I live in fear every day of being on social media and these popping up,” she testified. “I live in fear of my daughters being on social media and these popping up.”
Federal investigators later determined the Jan. 26, 2020, crash in Calabasas, California, was caused by pilot Ara Zobayan becoming disoriented while flying amid clouds in violation of aviation rules. All nine on board were killed, including Kobe, 13-year-old daughter Gianna, pilot Zobayan, two other teenage girls with their family members, and a basketball coach.
Bryant said she first learned the photos existed when the Los Angeles Times reported their existence a month after the crash.
“I bolted out of the house and around to the side so my girls wouldn't see,” she testified. “I was blindsided again, devastated, hurt. I trusted them. I trusted them not to do these things. I expected them to have more compassion, respect. My husband and my daughter deserve dignity.”
The jury's decision in the case came as Angelenos celebrated "Mamba Day" to honor the late basketball legend, who spent his entire career playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. In 2016, shortly after he retired from basketball, the city of Los Angeles declared Aug. 24 to be Kobe Bryant Day, a nod to his two jersey numbers, 8 and 24.
A few blocks away from the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles, a new mural stretching across the side of a building was unveiled in his honor. It's just one of countless public art pieces that have popped up throughout the city since his death.