LOS ANGELES - An attorney for Vanessa Bryant's co-plaintiff Tuesday asked a federal jury to award their client tens of millions of dollars for emotional distress caused when Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies snapped photos of the crash site where Kobe Bryant and eight others lost their lives in 2020.
Closing arguments began Tuesday in the trial's 10th day. According to TMZ, in his closing statement Jerome Jackson, attorney for Chris Chester asked the jury to award him $2.5 million in damages for the emotional distress caused in the 2 1/2 years since the crash and up to $1 million each year for future emotional distress for the rest of Chester's life, an estimated 30 years. Chester, like Bryant, lost his spouse and daughter in the crash.
Jackson called the sum "a fair and reasonable compensation. You can't award too much money for what they went through."
While attorneys for both Chester and Bryant made closing statements, only Chester's specified a dollar amount, according to TMZ. The county is expected to address the jury in Los Angeles federal court Wednesday morning. After rebuttal, the jury will begin deliberations.
Bryant and Chester's combined lawsuits allege negligence and invasion of privacy on the part of the county for the taking and sharing of photos from the scene of the crash, which the county says have all been destroyed.
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The plaintiffs say county personnel took graphic cell-phone pictures of human remains at the remote Calabasas crash site for their own amusement as "souvenirs" and shared them with other law enforcement personnel and members of the public.
The county has not disputed that at the very least some photos were shared with deputies and firefighters, but defense attorneys maintain that all images taken by first responders were deleted upon orders of superior officers, and no longer exist in any form. The photos never entered the public domain or appeared on the internet, the county insists.
In his summation, attorney Craig Lavoie mentioned that Tuesday would have been Kobe's 44th birthday. The attorney said it was "an honor to stand here today asking for justice and accountability" on behalf of the basketball great, his widow and the couple's daughter.
"We're here because of intentional conduct — the county violated Mrs. Bryant and Mr. Chester's constitutional rights," Lavoie said, asking the jury to hold the county liable for "the constitutional violations of its employees."
The attorney argued that the county had no policies or training to directly address the taking of photos of dead bodies by deputies and firefighters. He quoted Sheriff Alex Villanueva saying that employees of the department and other agencies have a long-standing custom of creating "death books" showing pictures of human remains.
The display of such photos to members of the public — as Deputy Joey Cruz is accused of doing when he allegedly showed a bartender friend, a bar patron and his own niece cell-phone images of Kobe's body taken at the crash site — "shocks the conscience," Lavoie said.
The attorney reminded the jury of the testimony of firefighters and sheriff's deputies whose statements on the stand were frequently contradicted by their previous interviews and depositions.
He also brought up the testimony of a sheriff's deputy who told jurors he shared graphic photos from the crash site with a fellow deputy while they played the video game "Call of Duty." Deputy Michael Russell testified that he texted several photos from the accident site to his gamer friend one day after the crash.
Along with Chester and Bryant's loved ones, the crash killed Alyssa Altobelli, 14; Keri Altobelli, 46; John Altobelli, 56; Christina Mauser, 38; and pilot Ara Zobayan, 50.
Two families separately settled with the county over the photos for $1.25 million each. All of the victims' families reached a settlement with the helicopter company for the crash, but those terms remain confidential.