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Kobe Bryant death sets off conversation about past sexual assault case

After Kobe Bryant's death on Sunday, a Washington Post reporter was suspended after tweeting an old article about the NBA star's sexual assault case.

When Kobe Bryant died suddenly over the weekend, some argued that there was no need to dredge up accounts of the 2003 rape allegation against him. 

Others viewed it as another example of an icon being given a pass because he was a successful athlete. 

While dozens of actors, news anchors and comedians have seen their careers ruined by sexual assault allegations in the #MeToo era, Bryant was one of many top-level athletes whose careers marched on. 

In 2003, Bryant was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old hotel employee in Eagle, Colorado. He denied the allegations and the case was dropped the next year. 

After the charges were dropped, Bryant released a statement apologizing to the woman involved, her family, Bryant's family and friends, and his supporters. 

"Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter," Bryant's statement read. A civil suit brought by the accuser was settled out of court in March 2005, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Mark Hurlbert, the prosecutor who pursued the charges against Bryant, later told The Associated Press that he was confident he would have won a conviction against the late basketball player had the accuser not ended the criminal case. 

“I do think it would be different today,” said Hurlbert, “Because of #MeToo, there’s a lot more support for a victim.”

After Bryant's death on Sunday, a Washington Post reporter was suspended after tweeting an old article about the sexual assault case. 

Credit: AP
FILE - In this Wednesday, March 24, 2004, file photo, Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, center, walks out of a holding area in Eagle, Colo.

Political reporter Felicia Sonmez linked to a 2016 Daily Beast article headlined "Kobe Bryant's Distburing Rape Case: The DNA Evidence, the Accuser's Story, and the Half-Confession." 

Sonmez explained to the Post's media reporter that she was trying to counter other tweets sent in the immediate aftermath of Bryant's death that dismissed the 2003 case as insignificant. Her tweet quickly led to backlash and Sonmez said she received death and rape threats. 

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As criticism of her tweet grew, a Washington Post managing editor told her to delete the tweets and she complied. 

She was then placed on administrative leave because “her tweets displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues,” according to The Post. 

The Post issued an updated statement Tuesday afternoon that said they determined that she was not in "clear and direct violation" of their social media policy, even though they felt her tweets were ill-timed.  

"Westworld" actress Evan Rachel Wood also received some backlash on social media for her tweet Sunday, just hours after Bryant's death, that also referenced the sexual assault case. 

"What has happened is tragic. I am heartbroken for Kobe’s family. He was a sports hero. He was also a rapist. And all of these truths can exist simultaneously," the actress tweeted. 

She later followed-up with another tweet that explained it wasn't meant as "condemnation or a celebration." 

"It was a reminder that everyone will have different feelings and there is room for us all to grieve together instead of fighting. Everyone has lost. Everyone will be triggered, so please show kindness and respect to all," she tweeted. 

The actress made her Twitter account private on Tuesday afternoon. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.