San Gabriel Valley Tribune
WEST COVINA, Calif. — The 2020 helicopter crash in the hills of Calabasas that took the lives of NBA Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna; Sarah and Payton Chester; Keri, John and Alyssa Altobelli; Christina Mauser, and pilot Ara Zobayan sent shock waves across the world.
But the unimaginable pain and grief sustained by Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, was compounded when graphic photos from the crash scene were shared by Los Angeles County deputies and firefighters with each other, some of their spouses, and in one instance with a bartender at a bar where a deputy was drinking.
Though these photos never appeared publicly, a jury last week said the sharing among deputies and firefighters of grisly photos of the bodies of her husband and daughter invaded the privacy of Vanessa Bryant and caused her emotional distress, resulting in $15 million in damages awarded to the NBA star’s widow, part of a $30 million court settlement on Aug. 24.
Her co-plaintiff Chris Chester, whose wife and daughter Sarah and Payton, also killed in the crash, was also awarded $15 million.
On Tuesday, Aug. 30, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a motion with a basic question: How can the county Sheriff’s Department and Fire Department prevent this kind of conduct from happening again?
The board motion asks the county attorneys to draw up new regulations, policies and additional training courses for first responders, specifically addressing the photographing of human remains while on duty. A report from the Office of the County Counsel was ordered by the board to be completed within the next 45 days.
This is in response to the jury’s verdict, which said neither the Los Angeles County Fire Department or the Sheriff’s Department “had adequate policies and/or training in place that would prevent such a violation from occurring,” according to the board motion.
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The motion was put forth by Supervisor Janice Hahn. Hahn’s staff member Liz Odendahl responded to questions via email about the issue, saying, “The supervisor’s opinion is there is no reason for a first responder to be taking photos at a crash scene.”
When asked what specific changes in policies she recommends, the supervisor wrote in an email that any strengthening of policies and training will be included in the report that comes back to the board.
“In the aftermath of this public trial and massive verdict, it is important that the County strengthen Fire Department and Sheriff’s Department policies and training and take any steps necessary to prevent this type of conduct from ever occurring again,” said Hahn in a prepared statement.
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