LOS ANGELES (CN) — After two weeks, the civil trial over photographs taken and shared by first responders to the helicopter crash that took the lives of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others has gone to the jury.
On Wednesday, the lawyer for Los Angeles County, sued by Vanessa Bryant and Christopher Chester, who lost his wife and daughter in the crash, gave her closing arguments.
"This is the photos case, but there are no photos," said attorney Mira Hashmall, a refrain she made again and again during her remarks. She was referring to the fact that the photographs in question have never been published, and have all been deleted — at least the ones we know about. They couldn't even be admitted into evidence.
The two parties are at odds over what the photos contained, why they were taken, why they were shared, and why they were deleted. Were they, as the plaintiffs contend, morsels of digital gossip? Part of some macabre hobby? Or were they, as the county has argued, part of the work of preserving an accident scene and identifying victims?
The jury will now decide whether Bryant and Chester's constitutional rights were violated when first responders took and shared photos of the remains of their spouses and daughters. Their rights are deemed to be violated if the photos were "publicly disseminated." The nine jurors will have to decide if that happened when LA County Sheriff's Deputy Joey Cruz showed crash site photos to a bartender in Norwalk, as well as to his niece, or if it happened when LA County Fire Capt. Tony Imbrenda showed photos to fire officials and their wives and girlfriends at an awards show.
To win, the plaintiffs must have proven that their constitutional rights were violated by either a lack of policies or training on the part of the sheriff's department or the fire department, or if that violation occurred because the proactive taking of crash site photos has become commonplace.
Hashmall argued Wednesday the actions of Cruz and Imbrenda were mistakes, and inconsistent with the policies of their respective departments, but not violations of constitutional rights.
"Joey Cruz made a mistake," Hashmall said. "It was not OK. But did it shock the conscience?" She added: "The mistakes off a few personnel is not the basis for millions and millions of dollars against the county."
On Tuesday, Chester's attorney Jerome Jackson asked the jury for an award of $75 million split between Chester and Bryant. On Wednesday, Hashmall reminded the jurors: "Damages cannot be about punishment or wanting to send a message. It can't be about revenge."
She also struck at what some might view as a contradiction in the plaintiffs' case — that they are "haunted" by the possibility of the photos being made public, yet the very public trial, covered extensively by the media, only served to publicize descriptions of the crash, which according to testimony left the victims' bodies badly mangled to the point where they were difficult to identify.
In his rebuttal, Bryant's attorney Luis Li defended his client's motives behind the suit.
"Mrs. Bryant has never once asked for a specific dollar amount," Li told the jury. "She has always wanted accountability and justice for Gigi and Kobe." He added that whatever damages the jury chose to award, it would "shine a light on Kobe and Gianna's legacy."
Because it is a federal civil trial, the jury's verdict must be unanimous.
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