Los Angeles will pay 31 million dollars for invading the privacy of the families who died in the Kobe Bryant accident | International
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Los Angeles County must pay $31 million in damages to the relatives of the victims where Kobe Bryant, the Lakers star, his daughter and seven others lost their lives in a helicopter crash in January 2020. A jury has determined that the city police violated the privacy of families and victims after some elements present in the area of the incident took photos with their mobile phones and shared them. “I expected more compassion and respect from them,” Vanessa Bryant, the basketball player’s widow, testified Friday. “My husband and my daughter deserve dignity,” added Bryant, who brought the city authorities to trial along with Chris Chester, who also lost his wife and daughter in the Calabasas, California, incident. Bryant will receive $16 million and Chester $15 million.
Throughout the trial, the city authorities argued that the images taken by the policemen who cordoned off the area were not widely distributed and that none of them were leaked to the media. Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva said last week that deputies needed to capture some footage of the event to determine the necessary response from emergency crews. The Bryant family’s lawyers had argued that the capture of these types of photographs was only necessary by members of the National Transportation Safety Board, the only ones qualified to carry out the expert opinion.
The verdict, which came the same day the Lakers star would have turned 44, took just a couple of hours of deliberation for the nine jurors. Craig Lavoie, the attorney for the Bryant family, said in his closing argument that the process was intended to punish “intentional conduct” by police officers. The trial lasted eleven days, in which the prosecution tried to prove the moments in which the public employees showed the photographs. One of these occasions was two days after the accident, when a police commissioner showed them to the employee of a bar in South Los Angeles. Some firefighters also saw them during a fundraising gala in Universal City, according to an eyewitness.
County attorneys, however, said the footage is virtually non-existent. “This is the case of the photographs and there are no photographs,” Mira Hashmall, who was defending the county, said Tuesday. Lavoie assured that it is impossible to know how many people have actually seen the macabre photographs. Joey Cruz, the police commissioner who showed the images to the waiter, erased his phone before turning it over to investigators. The same thing happened with a fire captain’s laptop. The device did not have a hard drive.
Sheriff Doug Johnson testified under oath that he took 25 images at the crash site. Many of these had human remains. Two other agents told the state that Johnson had told them he had captured at least 100 photos.
Vanessa Bryant recounted on Friday in an emotional testimony what she experienced on the day of the accident. She said that after hearing about the accident, she rushed to the Lost Hills police station, where Villanueva told her that 13-year-old Kobe and Gianna had died in the plane’s crash. The sheriff asked Bryant if he could do anything for her. “I’m worried about the paparazzi,” she told him. The sheriff told him the city had prevented city media helicopters from flying over the scene. The Lakers star’s death was a scoop on TMZ, a gossip and entertainment publication.
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One month after, Los Angeles Times revealed in an investigation that several agents in charge of guarding the perimeter to keep out souvenir hunters and Bryant supporters had taken photographs and shared them with colleagues. Villanueva then repudiated the capture of said images by his employees. Neither Bryant nor Chester were notified about this. After the publication of the report, they confessed to feeling anguish and fear that the photographs would see the light. The victims had requested in court 75 million dollars for the stress caused.
When Vanessa Bryant learned of these photographs, she ran out of her house looking for a place where her three daughters could not hear her. When she found it she began to cry. “I wanted to run through the streets and scream,” she told the jury on Friday. If the process yielded a certainty, it is that nobody knows if these images still exist and if they will ever be seen or never again.
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