More than two years after Kobe Bryant and his daughter’s untimely deaths on the 44th anniversary of Kobe’s birth a lawyer for his wife, Vanessa asked a federal court jury in Los Angeles to do right by them.
After hearing from hundreds of witnesses today was the final day of testimony in Vanessa Bryant’s civil suit against Los Angeles County. Bryant has been in court for ten days. Today was the first day of closing arguments, and the first time a lawyer for either Bryant or her co-plaintiff, Chris Chester asked the jury for a specific financial sum in their favor: $75 million
The lawyer for Chester Jerome Jackson sought damages of up to $1 million per year for the next 40 years for Bryant and 30 years for Chester due to his client’s emotional suffering, beginning with $2.5 million for the previous 2.5 years.
“When I reach this point of closing arguments, I’m usually anxious about not asking for too much,” Jackson stated to the jury in closing arguments. “I don’t have that anxiety today, because I will tell you ladies and gentlemen, you can’t award too much money for what they went through. You can’t stack it too high. You can’t spread it too wide. What they went through is inhuman and inhumane.”
Bryant has not requested a certain sum. The two of them sued the county in 2020 after their husbands and daughters were killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. They don’t hold the county accountable for the crash itself, but rather the aftermath. Both families claimed that county sheriff’s and fire department personnel had no business taking graphic images of their murdered loved ones with their personal phones at the scene of the incident.
According to the county, the images were never uploaded in the first place and were deleted soon after the accident. Bryant and Chester said they constantly worry that the images will resurface since they have no idea if they have been destroyed or are hiding somewhere.
“Forty-four years ago today, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Kobe Bryant was born,” Bryant’s attorney, Craig Jennings Lavoie, informed the jury as he began his closing argument. “Today is his birthday. It’s an honor to stand here representing Mrs. Bryant asking for justice and accountability on his behalf and her behalf and on behalf of their daughter Gianna, who would be 16 if she was still here with us.”
On Tuesday, Bryant, who has worn all black to court since the trial began on August 10, posted her first public Instagram photo. A picture of her and Kobe is accompanied by the words:
“Happy birthday, baby! I love you and miss you so much!”
In court, where the trial is rapidly winding down, her reminiscence quickly morphed into melancholy. After closing arguments continue on Wednesday morning, the five men and four women on the jury will have to decide a number of things about the case:
Did these county first responders violate Bryant’s and Chester’s constitutional privacy rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by publicly disseminating these crash-scene photos, allegedly because they wanted to use them as “souvenirs” or objects of amusement?
If so, is the county liable for it as an organization?
And if that’s the case, how much should the jury award them in exchange for their past and future emotional distress?
Witnesses’ contradictory testimony, the two primary public cases in which county officials shared crash-scene images and other key points of evidence were all discussed by Jennings Lavoie as he led the jury through the trial. An eyewitness stated in court that she overheard fire captain Tony Imbrenda exhibiting crash photographs at an awards gala in February 2020, Imbrenda denied that the photos featured an image of Kobe’s “burnt-up” body.
To another jury, Jennings Lavoie pointed to sheriff’s deputy trainee Joey Cruz, who displayed images from the collision scene at a bar two days after the incident, as the “clearest example” of a violation.
Jennings Lavoie also mentioned Fire Captain Brian Jordan, who, according to the Fire Department, roamed the scene of the incident taking unneeded images of dead bodies.
According to Jordan’s testimony acting chief Anthony Marrone instructed him to photograph the crash site. But Marrone contradicted that in his testimony this week. Additionally, he said that Jordan had texted him the coordinates of the ravine where Gianna Bryant’s body was found after the collision.
“Based on that, chief Marrone understood that Brian Jordan had eyes on her … in that ravine,” Jennings Lavoie said. Jennings Lavoie then alleged Jordan of taking “personal souvenir photos of a deceased child, not for any business purpose, but because he wanted to give these photos to himself, to take them home with him as a trophy.”
Bryant who was sitting at the plaintiffs’ table as Jennings Lavoie discussed the case, wiped her eyes with a tissue.
“Can you imagine?” Jennings Lavoie asked the jurors. “You’re charged with deciding whether that shocks the conscience. It shocks the conscience times 1,000. And he publicly disseminated those photos after taking them by giving them to himself (and) walking off the scene that day.”
The fire department informed Jordan of its “intention to discharge” him in a letter that was delivered to him in December 2020. The letter stated that Jordan’s misuse of the images “only served to appeal to baser instincts and desires for what amounted to visual gossip.”
Instead, Jordan went into early retirement. Last week he claimed he had no recollection of the day of the crash and that he had no idea who Gianna Bryant was, all because of “false allegations” that brought him to court.
Evidence Being Destroyed
In court last week, Jordan was also questioned about his missing computer’s hard drive. He had been instructed to return it to his employer. Since he didn’t know, the plaintiffs’ lawyers insinuated that the disturbing images might still be inside.
For the plaintiffs, the destruction of evidence was an essential component of their argument. The plaintiffs cannot prove what happened to the images or why they were destroyed by county officials so soon after the collision. Instead, their lawyers have had to question eyewitnesses about the contents of the bags and try to correlate the contents with victim descriptions.
“You can presume the evidence would have been bad for them,” Jennings Lavoie told the jury. The plaintiffs’ premise, as presented by Jennings Lavoie to the jury, is that the county is responsible for the actions of its workers here because it failed to provide sufficient procedures or training to prevent those actions.
Before the jury, he played a video interview with L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, in which Villanueva said that collecting and circulating graphic images of victims’ deaths at the scenes of accidents and crime is an established practice among law enforcement.
“It’s been tolerated for decades,” Jennings Lavoie told the jury. The county disagrees, but first the jury must decide if county employees infringed on Bryant and Chester’s rights. Chester’s lawyer requested the jury to hold the fire department and the sheriff’s department equally responsible for the damages.
“They stole his dignity and his family’s privacy,” Jackson said of his client. “They did it intentionally. They did it cruelly. They did it inhumanely. And they laughed about it and they lied about it. And then they tried to fight it with a clumsy, sloppy and dumb cover-up where at times they couldn’t even keep their story straight.”
On Wednesday, counsel for the county will present their closing argument to the jury. For more such updates do follow us only on Lee Daily
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