Justice is served. Kobe Bryant’s wife, Vanessa Bryant, and her co-plaintiff, Chris Chester, were awarded a combined $31 million on Wednesday, August 24, in their case against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Fire Department.
The verdict, which was reached just hours after Los Angeles County’s legal team made their closing arguments, found that first responders did share photos of the bodies of the late NBA icon, 40, and Chester’s loved ones. Vanessa was awarded $16 million and Chester was awarded $15 million.
Kobe died in January 2020 at the age of 41 alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna — and seven other passengers — when the helicopter they were traveling on crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, California.
The trial, which began on August 10, revealed tragic details surrounding the aftermath of the harrowing event, with Vanessa and Chester — who lost his wife Sarah and their 13-year-old daughter Payton — sued Los Angeles County for emotional distress and mental anguish.
In his opening statements earlier this month, Vanessa’s attorney Luis Li claimed that cell phone photos from the wreckage were shared by the fire captain “for a laugh” and that there was no official reason for them to be taken the first place.
“January 26, 2020, was and always will be the worst day of Vanessa Bryant’s life,” he told the jury at the time. “They took and shared pictures of Kobe and Gianna as souvenirs. … They poured salt in an unhealable wound.”
The attorney also claimed that on the day of the crash, first responders “walked around the wreckage and took pictures of broken bodies from the helicopter crash. They took close-ups of limbs, of burnt flesh. It shocks the conscience.” He argued that the photos were then “shared repeatedly with people who had absolutely no reason to receive them.”
Li then showed a video of defendant Deputy Joey Cruz sharing gruesome pictures of the crash and Kobe’s body to a bartender while out at a local bar.
Kobe’s body was recovered from the incident, while Gianna’s was found a day later in a ravine.
On Friday, August 19, Vanessa, who is also mom to daughters Natalia, 19, Bianka, 5, and Capri, 3, with her late husband, took the stand and recalled learning photos of the crash site and victims’ remains had allegedly been shared by officers throughout the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.
“I felt like I wanted to run down the block and just scream,” she said while on the stand. “But I couldn’t escape. I can’t escape my body.”
Vanessa added that she “never had a panic attack before this,” but she struggled with anxiety and depression in the aftermath. “I live in fear every day of being on social media and having these photos pop up.”
She further explained, “I want to remember my husband and my daughter the way that they were … I don’t ever want to see these photographs. I have three little girls!”