Vanessa Bryant (center) and family leave court after jury award decision, Aug. 27. Screenshot
Jury award in Kobe Bryant crash amended to $30m
By FRED SHUSTER
City News Service
LOS ANGELES (CNS)—The previously announced $31 million combined jury award against Los Angeles County for Vanessa Bryant and her co-plaintiff in the helicopter crash-site photos trial should have been $30 million, a judge has determined, based on a juror's note delivered less than an hour after the higher number was read aloud in court Wednesday and reported around the world.
At a hearing in federal court Friday, Aug. 26, US District Judge John Walter read into the record that at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday, a juror advised the courtroom deputy that there was an error on the verdict form as to Vanessa Bryant, who had been awarded a total of $16 million for past and future damages—including $2.5 million to be paid by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for past suffering.
According to a transcript of the Friday proceedings provided to City News Service, the courtroom deputy advised the juror to write a note explaining the alleged error. The juror then prepared a handwritten note that was filed with the court under seal. In the note, the juror stated that Vanessa Bryant should be awarded $1.5 million by the sheriff's department, not $2.5 million, for past damages.
The note states that it was the nine jurors' intent that both plaintiffs Vanessa Bryant and Chris Chester be awarded equally, the judge stated.
Walter held a sealed hearing Thursday morning with counsel to discuss the matter and requested briefs by that afternoon.
"In her brief, Plaintiff Vanessa Bryant states that she is willing to agree to an amended verdict and/or judg- ment that reduces her award against the sheriff's department by $1 million to avoid any potential need for examination of jurors after they have already been discharged and potentially exposed to outside influen- ces,'' the judge said.
That lowers her total award to $15 million, the same amount levied against the county by jurors on behalf of Chester. Bryant's attorney, Luis Li, told the court that his client "truly feels that it's a just result that she was awarded the same amount as Mr. Chester. From her heart she feels that."
The judge said that in light of the circumstances, recalling the discharged jury would not have been appropriate.
"This trial and the verdict has received national publicity," he said. "The jury in this case not only left the building but had to be escorted out of the building to ensure their privacy. The juror did not notify the Court
of the potential error until almost 35 to 40 minutes after the verdicts were read after which major news organizations, including CNN, were already reporting the results of the verdict."
The judge asked attorneys to meet and confer and prepare and file separate proposed judgments for both Bryant and Chester by the end of the month.
At the conclusion of the hour-plus hearing, Bryant attorney Luis Li said that in his 30 years of practice, he's never dealt with such a "sticky issue" relating to jurors.
The damages levied against Los Angeles County were awarded to compensate for past and future mental anguish caused by the actions of county personnel who snapped and shared cell phone pictures taken at the January 2020 accident scene.
Both plaintiffs lost spouses and daughters in the crash. Bryant's husband and daughter Gianna, and Chester's wife Sarah and 13-year-old daughter Payton died in the crash on a remote Calabasas hillside.
Jurors in downtown Los Angeles reached their verdict after roughly four-and-a-half hours of deliberations on the trial's 11th day. Vanessa Bryant wept as the verdict was announced and a short time later posted a photo of herself with Kobe and Gianna, with the caption, "All for you! I love you! JUSTICE for Kobe and Gigi!"
Thursday, the widow announced plans to donate proceeds from her part of the judgment to a foundation named in her husband's and daughter's memory. The nonprofit Mamba and Mambacita Sports foundation offers sports education to underserved athletes. Kobe Bryant's nickname was Black Mamba.
In calculating damages, the jury found that the sheriff's department and the Los Angeles County Fire Department both violated Bryant and Chester's constitutional rights to privacy for their loved ones in death.
Mira Hashmall, a private attorney who represented the county in the case, issued a statement after the verdict saying attorneys "will be discussing next steps with our client—meanwhile, we hope the Bryant and Chester families continue to heal from their tragic loss."
While the jury held the sheriff's department liable for maintaining a practice of sharing photos taken at accident or crime scenes, the county fire department was not found to have such a custom. The verdict came one day after what would have been Kobe Bryant's 44th birthday, and it happened on "Mamba Day"
in Los Angeles, which celebrates his life each year on Aug. 24, or 8-24, the two numbers he wore during his 20-year career with the Lakers.
An attorney for Chester had asked the panel to compel the county to pay a total of $75 million split between the widow and Chester for pain and suffering engendered when the pictures were snapped and displayed for no good reason to a bartender, attendees of an awards ceremony sent by a sheriff's deputy to a colleague while they were playing a video game.
Hashmall argued during her summation Wednesday that the photos have not surfaced in public in the two-and-a-half years since the tragedy, which proves they have been permanently deleted.
"This is a photo case, but there are no photos," the attorney told jurors in Los Angeles federal court. "There's a simple truth that cannot be ignored—there's been no public dissemination."
The county did not dispute that some photos were shared with a small number of deputies and firefighters. Defense attorneys maintained that all images taken by first responders were destroyed on orders of the sheriff and fire chief, and no longer exist in any form. The photos never entered the public domain or on the internet, the county insisted.
However, Bryant and Chester insisted they do not believe the pictures won't someday surface. Chester, an Irvine financial adviser, said on the stand he was "in disbelief at first. It never crossed my mind in my wildest imagination" that deputies and firefighters would share photos of his wife Sarah and their daughter Payton.
"It was grief on top of grief," he said. "I want justice and accountability."
The nine-member jury included a nun, a TV production worker, a college student, a real estate investor, a pharma- ceutical researcher and a restaurant host.
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 other 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 over the crash, but those terms remain confidential.
LA COUNTY DA CRIMINAL PROSECUTIONS
Two men get life for killing Compton toddler
Two men have been sentenced for the murder of a 3-year-old boy during a shootout in a Compton liquor store parking lot in 2018.
“The pain caused by the loss of a young child is unimaginable, more so when it’s caused by senseless violence,” District Attorney George Gascón said. “[These] life sentences will ensure these men will never hurt another innocent victim again.”
Dwayne Ward, 33 and Kevaughn Harris, 30, both of Compton, were sentenced to life in prison in the case.
Ward and Harris were both found guilty in December 2019 of one count each of second-degree murder, firing at an occupied motor vehicle, felon with a firearm and attempted murder.
On Jan. 20, 2018, Harris was walking toward a car parked outside a liquor store in the 2800 block of West Alondra Boulevard. Inside the vehicle were his girlfriend and her 3-year-old son Franklin.
Ward was sitting in a nearby vehicle when a confrontation began with Harris. Both men pulled out handguns and began firing at one another.
Franklin, who was sitting in the backseat of the vehicle, was fatally shot in the exchange of gunfire. His mother was not injured.
The case was investigated by the LA County Sheriff’s Department.
Man charged with killing 3 homeless victims
Tracy Walker, 57, was charged in three counts of murder and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon in the Rancho Dominguez area over the past year. The DA complaint also alleges that he used a knife in all three murders.
According to the DA’s office, the three victims were all homeless. “The heartless and brazen nature of these murders against some of the most helpless members of our community shock the conscience,” District Attorney George Gascón said. “My office will be seeking the appropriate justice given the circumstances and that is why we are seeking a life sentence in this case.”
On or about June 7, 2020, Walker is accused of killing 26-year-old Patricia Loeza who was found in the 19000 block of South Susana Road.
On or about Jan. 15, the defendant allegedly murdered Kenneth Edward Jones, 26, who was discovered in the 20000 block of South Santa Fe Avenue. The victim had blunt force trauma but also was stabbed.
Walker also is accused of killing 30-year-old Cesar Mazariegos on or about Feb. 7. He was found near the Compton Creek.
The case remains under investigation by the County Sheriff’s Department
Cop charged in child pornography case
A Long Beach police officer has been charged with possessing and distributing child pornography, according to the County district attorney.
Anthony Mark Brown, 66. was charged with three felony counts of distribution of child pornography and one felony count of possession of child or youth pornography. Brown’s arraignment is set for June 9 in Department 30 of the Foltz Criminal Justice Center.
“Any case involving the exploitation of a child is extremely disturbing, but it is particularly alarming when it involves a law enforcement officer,” said DA Gascón. “When an officer violates their sworn oath to serve and protect the community, they will be held to account.”
Between March 2019 and April 2020, Brown is accused of possessing and sending child pornography images through a social media site.
The case remains under investigation by the Long Beach Police Department.
Two charged with murder of youth counselor
Two young adults have been charged with participating in the fatal group beating of David McKnight-Hillman, a counselor at a South Los Angeles children and family services facility, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.
“We all grieve for David McKnight-Hillman and his family said the statement. As prosecutors, we will fulfill our constitutional duty to hold accountable the people responsible for his murder and offer the assistance of our Bureau of Victim Services to help his family obtain the support and services they need to address their loss and heal from the effects of their crime-induced trauma.”
Nyier Mason and Keith Lewis, both 19; face one count of murder in the case.
On Jan. 2, Mason and Lewis, both residents of the facility, allegedly beat McKnight-Hillman, 25, prosecutors said, resulting in the victim’s death.
Bail is set at $2 million for both. If convicted as charged, both defendants face a possible maximum sentence of 15 years to life in state prison.
The case remains under investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.