LOS ANGELES — Vanessa Bryant, the widow of Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, agreed to settle for $28.85 million her family’s potential court claims against Los Angeles County over the illicit circulation of photos of the helicopter crash that killed her husband, daughter and seven others.
The agreement seemingly ends the bizarre, wrenching and — for multiple county agencies — deeply embarrassing saga that began in the wake of the January 2020 helicopter crash, when it emerged that fire officials and sheriff’s deputies were sharing photos from the crash of mutilated bodies.
A Los Angeles jury previously rejected the explanation of county attorneys and officials — including since-ousted sheriff Alex Villanueva — that deputies and firefighters were showing the photos to others, including at a bar and a gala, for official reasons.
Bryant’s attorney, Luis Li, said the settlement “marks the successful culmination of Mrs. Bryant’s courageous battle to hold accountable those who engaged in this grotesque conduct.”
“She fought for her husband, her daughter, and all those in the community whose deceased family were treated with similar disrespect,” Li said in a statement. “We hope her victory at trial and this settlement will put an end to this practice.”
The debacle has been pricey for taxpayers of the most populous county in the United States. Los Angeles County also previously agreed to pay the family of Chris Chester, whose wife and daughter were killed in the crash, $20 million to end their claims.
In a statement Tuesday, Mira Hashmall, the outside attorney who has led the county’s legal efforts in the dispute, called the settlement, which was approved by the county’s board of supervisors, “fair and reasonable.”
“This settlement now concludes all County-related litigation related to the tragic January 2020 helicopter crash,” Hashmall said. “We hope Ms. Bryant and her children continue to heal from their loss.”
The trial last summer was a bruising one for county officials, who at times contradicted previous testimony, apologized on the stand for having lied about the photos and offered no real answers for disappearing phones and computer hardware that could have shed light on the spread of the photos.
Villanueva was among the top county officials who appeared to trip over past words, including by contradicting previous statements about how some officers collected “death books” with photos of corpses as personal mementos. Villanueva lost his reelection bid in November.
Bryant previously settled a claim against the helicopter company — of which her husband was a regular customer to avoid Los Angeles traffic — that took off despite foggy conditions that day.
Though county officials have said they believe the illicit photos were all eventually destroyed, Bryant and Chester testified that their circulation added to their anguish.
Bryant had told the audience in the downtown courthouse, just a few miles from where her husband led the Lakers to five championships, that publicly recounting her grief was worth it.
“I’m willing to go through hell and back to get justice for my husband and daughter,” she testified.