Kobe Bryant Crash Photos: LA County Pays Additional $4.95 Million to Chester Family

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday agreed to pay Chris Chester an additional $4.95 million for graphics sheriffs and firefighters took of the helicopter crash that killed his wife and daughter along with Kobe Bryant and six others in 2020 .

A federal jury last month awarded Chester and Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, $31 million after a trial in which lawyers argued illegal photos of the victims violated their right to privacy and caused emotional distress. Chester lost his wife, Sarah, and 13-year-old daughter, Payton, in the crash. Jurors awarded him $15 million in the verdict.

The regulators approved the final settlement with the Chester family in closed session.

Mira Hashmall, an outside attorney representing the county in the lawsuit, said the additional payout “solves all outstanding issues related to pending state claims, future claims of the Chester children, attorneys’ fees and costs.”

“We sincerely hope that this settlement will help Mr Chester and his children move on with their lives,” said Hashmall, calling it “fair and reasonable for all concerned.”

The settlement approved by the board on Tuesday resolves only the Chester family’s claims.

Vanessa Bryant, who lost her husband and her 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in the crash, can still continue her claims of invasion of privacy emanating from the photos. She could also claim significant legal costs accrued in the lengthy and complex federal lawsuits.

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Federal jurors awarded Bryant $16 million on Aug. 24 for the suffering they found she had already suffered from the photos and would suffer in the future. When the verdict was read, Bryant wept with bowed head and folded hands in prayer position.

During the 11-day trial, attorneys for Bryant and Chester documented how the photos had spread from the phones of officers and firefighters at the accident site on the Calabasas escarpment. They were flashed from a sheriff’s phone screen to a bartender in Norwalk. They were shown to firefighters and their husbands at an awards ceremony at a Universal City hotel, which one witness said amounted to a “party trick.” They were passed from one delegate to another while the couple played video games.

County attorneys insisted that first responders take and receive photos, including to help determine the size of a crash site and decide what resources are needed. The images, they said, were never published online or in the media — nor were they seen by the victims’ families due to the quick work of sheriffs and fire chiefs to stop their spread.

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Attorneys for Bryant and Chester argued that it is not known how far the images have spread because the county has not conducted a thorough investigation. It wasn’t until most of the officers involved had received new phones that officials hired a company to conduct forensics on employee devices. The laptop of a fire chief who took photos was missing its hard drive when it was examined, lawyers said. The captain, Brian Jordan, who has since retired, claimed under oath that he did not remember being at the crash site at all.

Bryant’s attorney Craig Lavoie said the phone of Joey Cruz, a deputy who showed graphics to a bartender in Norwalk, was reset before being turned over to the company. When it turned on, it was like it was new, with no photos saved. And the identity of at least one firefighter who received the photos remains unknown.

The helicopter carrying the Bryants, Chesters and others was en route from Orange County to a youth basketball game in Thousand Oaks when it crashed into a hillside of Calabasas in dense fog on Jan. 26, 2020, after the pilot was spatially disoriented.

Chris Chester and Vanessa Bryant have filed their lawsuit after a Times investigation found that deputies had shared photos of the crash.

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County officials previously agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle two other lawsuits filed by relatives of people killed in the crash. Mathew Mauser, whose wife, Christine, died in the crash, received half of that money, while JJ Altobelli and Alexis Altobelli got the other half. Their mother, Keri; father, John; and young sister, Alyssa, were killed in the crash.

When they reached their verdict in the lawsuit, the jurors found that the Sheriff’s Department lacked adequate training and policies to prevent employees from taking and sharing photos of dead bodies without purpose, and that there is a long-standing practice among deputies. from sharing death images for no legitimate reason. The provincial fire brigade, judges judged, also lacked sufficient training and policy.

Chester’s attorney Jerry Jackson asked the jury to award Bryant and Chester up to $75 million in combined damages for their emotional distress. Bryant’s lawyers did not provide a number.

“You can’t overpay for what they’ve been through,” Jackson told federal jurors. “What they’ve been through is inhumane and inhumane,” he said, gesturing to the province, “and they’ve done it.”

Times staff writer Alene Tchekmedyian contributed to this report.