A week after Los Angeles County was ordered to pay $30 million in damages over photos taken by first responders of human remains at the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others, the Board of Supervisors Tuesday called for a report on policies and training governing such actions by sheriff’s deputies and firefighters.
On a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl absent, the board approved a motion introduced by Supervisor Janice Hahn calling for a review of existing policies and possible new ones that could be implemented.
“After 11 days of trial and testimonies from more than 10 witnesses, the jury decided that neither the fire nor sheriff’s department had adequate policies and/or training in place that would prevent such a violation from occurring,” Hahn wrote in her motion. “In the aftermath of this public trial and massive verdict, it is important that the county review Fire Department and Sheriff’s Department policies and training to prevent this type of conduct from ever occurring again.”
The motion called for county attorneys, working with the fire and sheriff’s departments, to provide a “confidential report” within 45 days analyzing policies and training procedures, and possible new measures that could be imposed “that address the proper conduct of first responders regarding photographs of human remains in the course of their duties as first responders.”
Last week, a federal jury ordered the county to pay a total of $30 million in damages, evenly split, to Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, and Chris Chester, whose wife and daughter also died in the January 2020 helicopter crash in Calabasas. The Bryants’ 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, also died in the crash.
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. 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.
An attorney for Chester had asked the jury to compel the county to pay a total of $75 million split between Bryant 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 and sent by a sheriff’s deputy to a colleague while they were playing a video game.
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 appeared on the internet, the county insisted. However, Bryant and Chester insisted they do not believe that the pictures won’t someday surface.
Along with Chester and Bryant’s loved ones, the helicopter 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.
Vanessa Bryant announced last week plans to donate proceeds from her part of the judgment to a foundation named in her husband’s and daughter’s memories. The nonprofit Mamba and Mambacita Sports foundation offers sports education to underserved athletes. Kobe Bryant’s nickname was Black Mamba.