- Vanessa Bryant's trial against LA County after the death of her husband Kobe Bryant has come to a close.
- She sued over graphic photos of the crash shared by county officials.
- Ultimately the jury awarded her $16 million. The man who lost his wife and daughter in the crash was awarded $15 million.
The LA County Sheriff's department had a common practice of taking improper photos of remains
In awarding Vanessa Byrant and Chris Chester damages in the suit, the jury also made a major distinction in their verdict that singles out the LA County Sheriff's Department.
Both the LASD and the LACFD were found to have inadequate training and policies, which led to the improper photos being taken and disseminated.
However, the jury determined that the sheriff's department – and not the fire department – had a common practice of taking photos such photos.
The key distinction sheds new light on the practices of the sheriff's department, which has already been plagued by scandal in recent years.
The jury has reached a verdict, awarding Vanessa Bryant $16 million
After 4.5 hours of deliberation, the jury has sided with Vanessa Bryant.
The jury ruled that the LA County Sheriff's Department and the LA County Fire Department both violated Vanessa Bryant's and Chris Chester's constitutional rights. Chester lost his wife and daughter in the crash.
Bryant was awarded $16 million, while Chester was awarded $15 million.
When the judge announced the decision, Vanessa Bryant sobbed and clasped her hand together.
In closing statements, the widow's attorney said she aimed "to expose the sheriff's department and the fire department."
"This is the pictures case, and there are no pictures"
The attorney for LA County delivered her closing statement Wednesday morning, marking the beginning of the end of the emotional trial.
"This is the pictures case, and there are no pictures," Mira Hashmall, the county's attorney, told jurors, referring to the LA County Sheriff's order to delete the graphic pictures of the crash to prevent their spread.
"The longer we delayed, it was a universe that was expanding infinitely," Sheriff Alex Villanueva said during his testimony Friday. He claimed that with demands for legal and union representation by his staff, a traditional initial inquiry into who had taken the photos and distributed them could have been drawn out, and the photos could have spread further.
The jury has begun deliberations.
Vanessa Bryant's team kicks off closing arguments in Kobe Bryant crash photos trial and request millions in damages
An attorney for Vanessa Bryant made one last impassioned plea to jurors on the day of her husband's birthday, wrapping up a somber trial dealing with graphic photos of his dead body that were taken and shared by members of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputies and Los Angeles County Fire Department.
"Forty years ago today in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Kobe Bryant was born," Bryant attorney Craig Lavoie told jurors. "Today is his birthday, and it's an honor to be asking for justice for him, and his daughter Gianna on his birthday."
Now jurors will decide the fate of the trial.
LASD Sergeant Travis Kelly defended his staff taking up-close photos of human remains at crash site because 'it's part of the scene'
A Sergeant with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputies who set up the makeshift command post at the base of the mountain where Kobe Bryant's helicopter crashed gave a waffled recollection of the day's events on Monday.
He continued testifying Tuesday.
In internal interviews after the crash, Kelly told LASD investigators that he hadn't ordered his staff to take photos at the crash site. Deputy Raul Versales, in his internal interview, said the same, and added that no one at the command post requested the photos.
Kelly flip-flopped on Monday, telling the court that "I asked for someone to take photos." He said that he didn't oversee the radio channels but expected someone to relay the instruction over the radio.
In court, he defended his staff who took up-close photos of human remains, saying "it's part of the scene," saying that he eventually received 10 to 15 photos and deleted them after sending a selection to NTSB investigators.
But in his internal affairs interview, he had said that there was "a photo he will never forget," that he received amongst the graphic crash site photos, adding that "if it was my loved ones, I would not want to remember them in this way."
Vanessa Bryant has been joined by daughter Natalia, friend Sydney Leroux, and singer Ciara
Vanessa Bryant has been joined by a support system including friend and soccer player Sydney Leroux, singer Ciara and her and Kobe Bryant's eldest daughter, Natalia, 19.
During Vanessa Bryant's emotional testimony last week, she spoke of panic attacks she has had and said her other daughters, Bianka Bryant, 5, and Capri Bryant, 3, sleep with her every night.
A fire captain went rogue to photograph the Kobe Bryant crash site
A Los Angeles County fire chief poured cold water on the testimony of one of his former staff members, who had taken dozens of photos of remains at the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash site and argued that he was ordered to do so.
Acting LACFD fire chief Anthony Marrone took the stand during the trial's ninth day.
He testified that retired LACFD Fire Captain and Safety Officer Brian Jordan came into the station on his day off and told him, "I'm gonna go to that brushfire," referring to the resulting fire from the helicopter crash. He took somewhere between 25 to 30 photos.
Marrone testified that he never asked Jordan to take photos of human remains at the crash scene, calling the photos "inappropriate."
Trial continues Monday with testimony from the LASD's head of internal investigations
After an emotional round of testimony last week, the trial resumed Monday with testimony regarding the LA Sheriff's Department's head of internal investigations.
The investigation has featured heavily throughout the trial, sometimes conflicting with the testimony from deputies who have taken the stand. It wasn't until two days after a bombshell LA Times piece was published that the department started its own internal investigation into the spread of photos of the Kobe Bryant crash site.
Kobe Bryant trial could mean trouble for Sheriff Villanueva, locked in a "pretty big fight" for reelection, prosecutor says
The LA County Sheriff's Department in recent years has battled a barrage of negative press stemming from a slew of misconduct allegations, including the coverup of an incident in which a deputy knelt on the head of a handcuffed inmate for multiple minutes.
The deputy in question was also accused of taking and sharing photos of the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash site.
The compounding crises could spell trouble for Villanueva, who is locked in a "pretty big fight" for his political career ahead of the upcoming November election, Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, told Insider this week.
"The fact that you have the sheriff's department allegedly acting like criminals, covering up crimes, that's a huge problem."
Attorneys for Vanessa Bryant accused the LA County Sheriff's department of deleting evidence before trial, which could be considered illegal, prosecutor says
Attorneys for Vanessa Bryant and other plaintiffs provided testimony this week suggesting the LA County Sheriff's department's efforts to cover up the circulation of photos from the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash site went even further than previously reported.
A tech expert hired by Bryant's lawyers told the courtroom on Wednesday that a September 2021 analysis found that deputies "violated fundamental forensic policies" when they deleted the crash site photos.
Lawyers for the victims also have accused the sheriff's department of deleting evidence.
If deputies destroyed or failed to preserve key evidence after it became clear that litigation was imminent, it would be considered "spoliation of evidence," Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, told Insider this week.
Testimonies from Kobe Bryant crash photos trial shows how 'shady' the scandal-ridden LA County Sheriff's department is, former prosecutor says
Over the past seven days, a revolving door of LA sheriff's deputies and fire captains took the stand and testified about their involvement in the county-wide circulation of gruesome pictures from the site of the January 2020 helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna.
The most damning consequences stemming from the trial are unlikely to fall upon individual deputies, Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, told Insider this week. The real trouble, he posited, is hanging over the already scandal-ridden agency at the heart of the case.
"The biggest takeaway," Rahmani said of the trial's first week, "is how shady the LA County Sheriff's Department is."
Why LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva granted amnesty to deputies who photographed the crash site
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva offered a closer look into the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department's efforts to contain the gruesome helicopter crash site of Kobe Bryant after the tragic event.
Villanueva said Friday that he told his staff, "come forward with any photos and who you sent them to, and you won't receive discipline."
He claimed that with demands for legal and union representation by his staff, a traditional initial inquiry into who had taken the photos and distributed them could have been drawn out, and the photos could have spread further.
LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva says that only 'god knows' if Kobe Bryant crash photos were permanently deleted from first responders' devices
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva offered a closer look into the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department's efforts to contain the gruesome helicopter crash site of Kobe Bryant after the tragic event, defending his deletion order of the photos because of "a universe that was expanding infinitely."
When asked if he knew for certain that the photos were permanently deleted, Villanueva said that "god knows, that's about it."
Vanessa Bryant testified about the graphic way first responders described crash remains
In a federal courtroom on Friday, Vanessa Bryant recalled the graphic imagery she heard first responders use to describe up-close photos of her husband and daughter after their helicopter crashed in 2020.
"I did not know that people would refer to them as 'piles of meat,' 'gumbo,' and 'hamburger meat,'" Bryant testified, referring to phrases used by first responders both in testimony and in internal interviews, which were played in court.
Vanessa Bryant takes the stand
The leak of gruesome photos from the scene of the helicopter crash that killed her husband and daughter left her feeling "helpless" and "disgusted," Vanessa Bryant testified Friday, saying that she still has panic attacks to this day.
Dressed all in black and often breaking down in tears, Bryant, appearing in a federal court in downtown Los Angeles, recounted the day that she learned that first responders were sharing photos of the crash that included human remains.
'I wanted to see Kobe, to be honest'
Two Los Angeles firefighters implicated in the county-wide spread of gruesome photos taken at the helicopter crash site acknowledged this week that their own curiosity about the high-profile tragedy was a driving factor in their getting involved.
One, Los Angeles County Fire Department Captain Sky Cornell, was shown the photos at the 2020 Golden Mike awards gala.
Plaintiff's attorneys on Thursday zeroed in on a comment Cornell previously made during an internal interview with the LACFD over the photos' spread.
"I wanted to see Kobe, to be honest," Cornell said at the time, exemplifying the reason that drove several sheriff's deputies and fire officials to share graphic photos from the scene.
On the stand this week, Cornell acknowledged that it was "poor language," but said there was a "curiosity with any large-scale event" to see the photos.