Live updates in the Kobe Bryant plane crash photos trial: 12 times LA County first responders contradicted themselves during the Kobe Bryant crash photos trial

·32 min read
Vanessa Bryant
Vanessa Bryant, center, the widow of Kobe Bryant, leaves a federal courthouse in Los Angeles, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022. Kobe Bryant's widow is taking her lawsuit against the Los Angeles County sheriff's and fire departments to a federal jury, seeking compensation for photos deputies shared of the remains of the NBA star, his daughter and seven others killed in a helicopter crash in 2020.(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
  • Vanessa Bryant's trial against LA County after the death of her husband Kobe Bryant has come to a close.

  • She sued over graphic photos of the crash shared by county officials.

  • Ultimately the jury awarded her $16 million. The man who lost his wife and daughter in the crash was awarded $15 million.

12 times LA County first responders contradicted themselves during the Kobe Bryant crash photos trial

Kobe Bryant helicopter crash site
Investigators work the scene of a helicopter crash that killed former NBA basketball player Kobe Bryant and his teenage daughter, and seven others in Calabasas, Calif., on Jan. 27, 2020. Lawyers for Los Angeles County failed to persuade a federal judge to end Vanessa Bryant's lawsuit over gruesome photos of the helicopter crash. U.S. District Judge John F. Walter on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, rejected a county motion for summary judgment, saying that "there are genuine issues of material facts for trial," the Los Angeles Times reported.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

Throughout the trial, contradictions morphed into a theme – something Vanessa Bryant and Chris Chester both pointed out during their testimonies. Ultimately, the conflicting testimonies muddied what role key witnesses played at the crash site, while internal department interviews sometimes offered a clearer look to jurors.

A county attorney accused Bryant's team of nitpicking audio snippets from internal department investigations, but those interviews also provided part of a roadmap as to who ordered the photos, what they showed, and why the staff disseminated the photos.


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Vanessa Bryant will donate proceeds from $16 million verdict to Mamba and Mambacita sports foundation

Gianna and Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Bryant.(AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

Vanessa Bryant announced that she would be donating funds from her $16 million verdict against Los Angeles County first responders to her foundation to help underserved boys and girls play basketball, the Mamba and Mambacita sports foundation.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Bryant will donate her portion "to shine a light on Kobe and Gigi's legacy."

Bryant has not yet specificied if the donation would be the entire pool of money.

 

The LA County Sheriff's department had a common practice of taking improper photos of remains

In awarding Vanessa Byrant and Chris Chester damages in the suit, the jury also made a major distinction in their verdict that singles out the LA County Sheriff's Department.

Both the LASD and the LACFD were found to have inadequate training and policies, which led to the improper photos being taken and disseminated.

However, the jury determined that the sheriff's department – and not the fire department – had a common practice of taking photos such photos.

The key distinction sheds new light on the practices of the sheriff's department, which has already been plagued by scandal in recent years.


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The jury has reached a verdict, awarding Vanessa Bryant $16 million

Vanessa Bryant dressed in black, wearing sunglasses and holding notepad
Vanessa Bryant, the widow of Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, leaves the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2022. She is suing the county for graphic photos taken by first responders at the scene of the helicopter crash that killed her husband.Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

After 4.5 hours of deliberation, the jury has sided with Vanessa Bryant.

The jury ruled that the LA County Sheriff's Department and the LA County Fire Department both violated Vanessa Bryant's and Chris Chester's constitutional rights. Chester lost his wife and daughter in the crash.

Bryant was awarded $16 million, while Chester was awarded $15 million.

When the judge announced the decision, Vanessa Bryant sobbed and clasped her hand together.

In closing statements, the widow's attorney said she aimed "to expose the sheriff's department and the fire department."


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"This is the pictures case, and there are no pictures"

The attorney for LA County delivered her closing statement Wednesday morning, marking the beginning of the end of the emotional trial.

"This is the pictures case, and there are no pictures," Mira Hashmall, the county's attorney, told jurors, referring to the LA County Sheriff's order to delete the graphic pictures of the crash to prevent their spread.

"The longer we delayed, it was a universe that was expanding infinitely," Sheriff Alex Villanueva said during his testimony Friday. He claimed that with demands for legal and union representation by his staff, a traditional initial inquiry into who had taken the photos and distributed them could have been drawn out, and the photos could have spread further.

The jury has begun deliberations.

Vanessa Bryant was joined by her daughter Natalia, USWNT soccer player Sydney Leroux, and Rob Pelinka and his wife

Vanessa Bryant, Sydney Leroux
Vanessa Bryant, left, the widow of the late Kobe Bryant, holds hands with friend, Sydney Leroux as they leave a federal courthouse in Los Angeles Friday, Aug. 19, 2022.(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

As attorneys wrapped up their closing arguments on Wednesday, Vanessa Bryant was joined in court by her 19-year-old daughter Natalia, as well as USWNT player Sydney Leroux and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, along with his wife Kristin.

Bryant was dressed in all white, deviating from the all-black she has donned throughout the trial. A county attorney showed footage of the January 2020 crash scene from news helicopters, arguing that the county never disseminated those images.

Pelinka covered his eyes and looked down during the duration of the video.

During a section of her attorney Luis Li's closing rebuttal argument where he walked through the events of the helicopter crash and circulation of the crash site photos, Bryant and others broke down in tears.

"That was the worst day of their life, and somehow, the County made that day even worse."

Vanessa Bryant's team kicks off closing arguments in Kobe Bryant crash photos trial and request millions in damages

kobe and Gianna Bryant
In this July 26, 2018, file photo former Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna watch during the U.S. national championships swimming meet in Irvine, Calif. Federal investigators say wreckage from the helicopter that crashed last month and killed Bryant, his daughter and seven others did not show any outward evidence of engine failure, the National Transportation Safety Board said Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.(AP Photo/Chris Carlson,File)

An attorney for Vanessa Bryant made one last impassioned plea to jurors on the day of her husband's birthday, wrapping up a somber trial dealing with graphic photos of his dead body that were taken and shared by members of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputies and Los Angeles County Fire Department.

"Forty years ago today in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Kobe Bryant was born," Bryant attorney Craig Lavoie told jurors. "Today is his birthday, and it's an honor to be asking for justice for him, and his daughter Gianna on his birthday."

Now jurors will decide the fate of the trial.


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LASD Sergeant Travis Kelly defended his staff taking up-close photos of human remains at crash site because 'it's part of the scene'

A Sergeant with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputies who set up the makeshift command post at the base of the mountain where Kobe Bryant's helicopter crashed gave a waffled recollection of the day's events on Monday.

He continued testifying Tuesday.

In internal interviews after the crash, Kelly told LASD investigators that he hadn't ordered his staff to take photos at the crash site. Deputy Raul Versales, in his internal interview, said the same, and added that no one at the command post requested the photos.

Kelly flip-flopped on Monday, telling the court that "I asked for someone to take photos." He said that he didn't oversee the radio channels but expected someone to relay the instruction over the radio.

In court, he defended his staff who took up-close photos of human remains, saying "it's part of the scene," saying that he eventually received 10 to 15 photos and deleted them after sending a selection to NTSB investigators.

But in his internal affairs interview, he had said that there was "a photo he will never forget," that he received amongst the graphic crash site photos, adding that "if it was my loved ones, I would not want to remember them in this way."

Vanessa Bryant has been joined by daughter Natalia, friend Sydney Leroux, and singer Ciara

Vanessa Bryant, Sydney Leroux
Vanessa Bryant, left, the widow of the late Kobe Bryant, holds hands with friend, Sydney Leroux as they leave a federal courthouse in Los Angeles Friday, Aug. 19, 2022.(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Vanessa Bryant has been joined by a support system including friend and soccer player Sydney Leroux, singer Ciara and her and Kobe Bryant's eldest daughter, Natalia, 19.

During Vanessa Bryant's emotional testimony last week, she spoke of panic attacks she has had and said her other daughters, Bianka Bryant, 5, and Capri Bryant, 3, sleep with her every night.


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A fire captain went rogue to photograph the Kobe Bryant crash site

Firefighters work the scene of a helicopter crash where former NBA basketball star Kobe Bryant died in Calabasas, Calif., Jan. 26, 2020.
Firefighters work the scene of a helicopter crash where former NBA basketball star Kobe Bryant died in Calabasas, Calif., Jan. 26, 2020.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

A Los Angeles County fire chief poured cold water on the testimony of one of his former staff members, who had taken dozens of photos of remains at the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash site and argued that he was ordered to do so.

Acting LACFD fire chief Anthony Marrone took the stand during the trial's ninth day.

He testified that retired LACFD Fire Captain and Safety Officer Brian Jordan came into the station on his day off and told him, "I'm gonna go to that brushfire," referring to the resulting fire from the helicopter crash. He took somewhere between 25 to 30 photos.

Marrone testified that he never asked Jordan to take photos of human remains at the crash scene, calling the photos "inappropriate."


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Trial continues Monday with testimony from the LASD's head of internal investigations

After an emotional round of testimony last week, the trial resumed Monday with testimony regarding the LA Sheriff's Department's head of internal investigations.

The investigation has featured heavily throughout the trial, sometimes conflicting with the testimony from deputies who have taken the stand. It wasn't until two days after a bombshell LA Times piece was published that the department started its own internal investigation into the spread of photos of the Kobe Bryant crash site.

 

 

Kobe Bryant trial could mean trouble for Sheriff Villanueva, locked in a "pretty big fight" for reelection, prosecutor says

Sheriff Alex Villanueva speaks to the press as the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department takes part in active shooter training drills at Rosemead High School on Thursday, July 28, 2022 in Rosemead, CA
Sheriff Alex Villanueva speaks to the pressJason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The LA County Sheriff's Department in recent years has battled a barrage of negative press stemming from a slew of misconduct allegations, including the coverup of an incident in which a deputy knelt on the head of a handcuffed inmate for multiple minutes. 

The deputy in question was also accused of taking and sharing photos of the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash site.

The compounding crises could spell trouble for Villanueva, who is locked in a "pretty big fight" for his political career ahead of the upcoming November election, Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, told Insider this week.

"The fact that you have the sheriff's department allegedly acting like criminals, covering up crimes, that's a huge problem."


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Attorneys for Vanessa Bryant accused the LA County Sheriff's department of deleting evidence before trial, which could be considered illegal, prosecutor says

Attorneys for Vanessa Bryant and other plaintiffs provided testimony this week suggesting the LA County Sheriff's department's efforts to cover up the circulation of photos from the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash site went even further than previously reported.

A tech expert hired by Bryant's lawyers told the courtroom on Wednesday that a September 2021 analysis found that deputies "violated fundamental forensic policies" when they deleted the crash site photos.

Lawyers for the victims also have accused the sheriff's department of deleting evidence.

If deputies destroyed or failed to preserve key evidence after it became clear that litigation was imminent, it would be considered "spoliation of evidence," Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, told Insider this week.


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Testimonies from Kobe Bryant crash photos trial shows how 'shady' the scandal-ridden LA County Sheriff's department is, former prosecutor says

Sheriff Alex Villanueva at a press conference held in Hall of Justice on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva at a press conference held in Hall of Justice on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA.Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Over the past seven days, a revolving door of LA sheriff's deputies and fire captains took the stand and testified about their involvement in the county-wide circulation of gruesome pictures from the site of the January 2020 helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna.

The most damning consequences stemming from the trial are unlikely to fall upon individual deputies, Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, told Insider this week. The real trouble, he posited, is hanging over the already scandal-ridden agency at the heart of the case.

"The biggest takeaway," Rahmani said of the trial's first week, "is how shady the LA County Sheriff's Department is."


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Why LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva granted amnesty to deputies who photographed the crash site

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva offered a closer look into the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department's efforts to contain the gruesome helicopter crash site of Kobe Bryant after the tragic event.

Villanueva said Friday that he told his staff, "come forward with any photos and who you sent them to, and you won't receive discipline."

He claimed that with demands for legal and union representation by his staff, a traditional initial inquiry into who had taken the photos and distributed them could have been drawn out, and the photos could have spread further.


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LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva says that only 'god knows' if Kobe Bryant crash photos were permanently deleted from first responders' devices

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva (R) speaks at a press conference on November 2, 2021.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva (R) speaks at a press conference on November 2, 2021.Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva offered a closer look into the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department's efforts to contain the gruesome helicopter crash site of Kobe Bryant after the tragic event, defending his deletion order of the photos because of "a universe that was expanding infinitely."

When asked if he knew for certain that the photos were permanently deleted, Villanueva said that "god knows, that's about it."


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Vanessa Bryant testified about the graphic way first responders described crash remains

In a federal courtroom on Friday, Vanessa Bryant recalled the graphic imagery she heard first responders use to describe up-close photos of her husband and daughter after their helicopter crashed in 2020.

"I did not know that people would refer to them as 'piles of meat,' 'gumbo,' and 'hamburger meat,'" Bryant testified, referring to phrases used by first responders both in testimony and in internal interviews, which were played in court.


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Vanessa Bryant takes the stand

Vanessa Bryant dressed in black, wearing sunglasses and holding notepad
Vanessa Bryant, the widow of Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, leaves the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2022. She is suing the county for graphic photos taken by first responders at the scene of the helicopter crash that killed her husband.Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The leak of gruesome photos from the scene of the helicopter crash that killed her husband and daughter left her feeling "helpless" and "disgusted," Vanessa Bryant testified Friday, saying that she still has panic attacks to this day.

Dressed all in black and often breaking down in tears, Bryant, appearing in a federal court in downtown Los Angeles, recounted the day that she learned that first responders were sharing photos of the crash that included human remains.


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The man who lost his daughter and wife in the crash shares his story for the first time

Chris Chester – speaking publicly about the crash that killed his wife and daughter for the first time – said he was grateful that he said goodbye and "I love you" to Sarah and Payton one last time on the morning of January 26, 2020.

When he learned of the crash, "I was hoping I was going to a hospital," Chester told the court in his consolidated trial with Vanessa Bryant. He stayed at the station for hours until he learned there were no survivors.

After, he and Vanessa Bryant urged Sheriff Alex Villanueva to "lock it down" and ensure that no fans or media made it to the crash site to take photos or souvenirs.

Then, on February 28, 2020 – his birthday – he learned through a Los Angeles Times story that first responders who were at the helicopter crash site took and shared photos of human remains, and then deleted the photos after a citizen complained that they were shown at a bar.

"There was anger," Chester said calmly and between sniffles. "And there was a little bit of rage to it."

His testimony offers evidence of the compounded grief he experienced as a result of the photo sharing.


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'I wanted to see Kobe, to be honest'

Kobe Bryant helicopter crash site
Investigators work the scene of a helicopter crash that killed former NBA basketball player Kobe Bryant and his teenage daughter, and seven others in Calabasas, Calif., on Jan. 27, 2020. Lawyers for Los Angeles County failed to persuade a federal judge to end Vanessa Bryant's lawsuit over gruesome photos of the helicopter crash. U.S. District Judge John F. Walter on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, rejected a county motion for summary judgment, saying that "there are genuine issues of material facts for trial," the Los Angeles Times reported.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

Two Los Angeles firefighters implicated in the county-wide spread of gruesome photos taken at the helicopter crash site acknowledged this week that their own curiosity about the high-profile tragedy was a driving factor in their getting involved.

One, Los Angeles County Fire Department Captain Sky Cornell, was shown the photos at the 2020 Golden Mike awards gala.

Plaintiff's attorneys on Thursday zeroed in on a comment Cornell previously made during an internal interview with the LACFD over the photos' spread.

"I wanted to see Kobe, to be honest," Cornell said at the time, exemplifying the reason that drove several sheriff's deputies and fire officials to share graphic photos from the scene.

On the stand this week, Cornell acknowledged that it was "poor language," but said there was a "curiosity with any large-scale event" to see the photos.


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Two fire personnel testified on Wednesday, including the LACFD staff member who showed photos of remains from the Kobe Bryant crash site at a gala

Gianna and Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Bryant.(AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

On Thursday, the jury will continue to get an idea of how – and why – photos taken by first responders were shared.

Los Angeles County Fire Department Public Information Officer Tony Imbrenda took the stand on Wednesday, and maintained that he was just "talking shop" and discussing tactics when he showed Kobe Bryant crash site photos to other fire personnel the month after the January 2020 crash.

Eventually, Imbrenda, said that although he believed he was having a "professional conversation with authorized personnel," his showing of the photos in a public setting was not a good decision and he "wouldn't have done it if given the chance again."

Key data was missing from most of the LASD devices reviewed in a forensic analysis, tech expert testifies

Firefighters work the scene of a helicopter crash where former NBA basketball star Kobe Bryant died in Calabasas, Calif., Jan. 26, 2020.
Firefighters work the scene of a helicopter crash where former NBA basketball star Kobe Bryant died in Calabasas, Calif., Jan. 26, 2020.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

A tech expert hired by Vanessa Bryant's attorneys testified that Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputies "violated fundamental forensic policies" when they deleted gruesome helicopter crash site photos and turned in brand new phones to independent forensic investigators.


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Vanessa Bryant learned that the LA Sheriff's Department deleted graphic photos of the crash that killed Kobe and Gianna from an LA Times story, chief testifies

Vanessa Bryant, who had just lost her husband and 13-year-old daughter in a grisly helicopter crash, found out via a Los Angeles Times article that the LA County Sheriff's Department issued an agency-wide deletion order of graphic photos that responding deputies took at the scene of the crash, an LASD media relations captain testified this week.

Chief Jorge Valdez, who in January 2020 was working as a spokesperson for the department, acknowledged in court on Tuesday that he helped cover up a citizen complaint for nearly a month after a deputy was seen sharing gruesome photos of the crash site at a Norwalk bar. 

In court on Tuesday, Valdez admitted that the helicopter crash victims' family members learned about the complaint and deletion order via the LA Times story, and not from the agency itself. He also testified that the department never did reach out to Vanessa Bryant or other victims' families about the photos or deletion order.

And it wasn't until two days after the LA Times piece was published that the department started its own internal investigation into the photos, he testified.

 

One of Sheriff Alex Villanueva's top media relations staff continues his testimony today after admitting to helping keep a citizen complaint about crash photos under wraps for almost a month

Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant (24) points to a player behind him after making a basket in the closing seconds against the Orlando Magic in Game 2 of the NBA basketball finals, in Los Angeles, June 7, 2009.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

Testimony continues Wednesday from a Los Angeles federal courtroom from top LASD media relations captain Jorge Valdez, who played a crucial role in covering up the citizen complaint around Kobe Bryant crash photos, and the ensuing photo deletion order.

After private citizen Rafeal Mendez complained about graphic photos of Kobe Bryant's remains being shown at a Norwalk bar, Valdez was tasked with investigating the complaint by LASD, according to emails and testimony shared in the court.

Days after the complaint, by January 31,2020, Valdez had retrieved the security footage showing Deputy Joey Cruz sharing the photos, had spoken with Mendez and then helped relay Sheriff Alex Villanueva's order to staff to "not let the photos see the light of day."

But when a Los Angeles Times reporter asked media relations staff John Satterfield, Valdez, and  Sheriff Villanueva about the complaint and deletion order on February 26, the three lied and denied knowledge of either event. "We're such a large organization," Valdez told the Times. "I'm unaware of any complaint."

For that whole month, a USB containing the surveillance footage of Cruz sat in Valdez's office with no official review. By February 28, the LASD had given staff who shared crash site photos a minor disciplinary slap on the wrist and issued a statement saying that the agency was "deeply disturbed," by "allegations" that staff had taken and shared photos.

 

Top cop's testimony offers a rare glimpse into the internal tensions within the LASD after the crash

Kobe Bryant helicopter crash site memorial
A small memorial is left near the scene, upper, left, of a helicopter crash that killed former NBA basketball player Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, in Calabasas, Calif.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

In the aftermath of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputy Matthew Vander Horck had deep concerns that his colleagues had taken, shared, and were later ordered to delete gruesome Kobe Bryant helicopter crash site photos.

But by time he arrived to work on January 31 to discuss the photos with his staff, it was already too late. Vander Horck said during Tuesday's testimony Lieutenant Hector Mancinas from the Lost Hills station had already ordered the staff to delete the photos, per the Sheriff's direction.


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LA Sheriff's deputies said sharing Kobe Bryant crash photos at a bar and over Call of Duty helped them 'alleviate stress'

Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers at the Utah Jazz at Staples Center on April 13, 2016.
Kobe Bryant.Harry How / Staff / Getty Images

Two Los Angeles sheriff's deputies who shared graphic photos of the 2020 helicopter crash were among the first to publicly express remorse for their role in the county-wide spread of the photos while testifying on Tuesday.

Deputies Joey Cruz and Michael Russell both took the stand Tuesday morning, kicking off the fifth day of the trial between Vanessa Bryant and Los Angeles County.

Cruz and Russell both expressed some regret for their actions but also testified that their decisions to share the gruesome photos with others was a way to "de-stress."

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The Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputy who showed graphic photos of the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash site at a bar will explain why he did it

Gianna and Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Bryant.(AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

On Tuesday, a Los Angeles federal courtroom heard more testimony from Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputy Joey Cruz, who shared photos of human remains from the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and 8 others at a bar in Norwalk, California.

Cruz began his testimony late on Monday, admitting that he had gone "too far" on the night of January 28, 2022, while venting about the stressful crash site to his friend two days after the crash at the Baja California Bar and Grill.

Last week, Cruz' friend and bartender Victor Gutierrez testified that Cruz had shown him graphic photos of Kobe Bryant's remains and "there were just parts," in testimony that prompted Vanessa Bryant to leave the room.

'Curiosity' led officials to share the graphic photos, one deputy testifies

kobe and Gianna Bryant
In this July 26, 2018, file photo former Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna watch during the U.S. national championships swimming meet in Irvine, Calif. Federal investigators say wreckage from the helicopter that crashed last month and killed Bryant, his daughter and seven others did not show any outward evidence of engine failure, the National Transportation Safety Board said Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.(AP Photo/Chris Carlson,File)

The Federal courtroom in downtown Los Angeles got an inside look as to why one Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputy waited four days to delete gruesome crash site photos from the helicopter crash that killed Kobe, Gianna Bryant, and nine others.

In that time, the up-close photos would be shared with at least five other law enforcement officers, one of whom admitted to sharing the photos at a bar.

One of those deputies, Deputy Rafael Mejia, expressed regret and said that he shared the photos with other staff members because "curiosity got the best of us."


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The LA Fire Captain who retired after the crash over mental health issues stormed out of testimony and took a combative approach on the stand

On the fourth day of the trial, a former LA County fire official accused of taking and sharing photos of the 2020 helicopter crash testified that he was simply following orders at the scene of the tragedy.

Retired LACFD Fire Captain and Safety Officer Brian Jordan abruptly left the stand three separate times during his tense Monday morning testimony.

Jordan had made efforts to try and avoid testifying ahead of the trial, filing a protective order citing the gruesome crash site's impact on his mental health. His negative mental health was the same reason he gave for retiring early after he was issued a letter of intent for discharge over the improper crash site photos.

Jordan said he only took the photos because his superior, Fire Chief Anthony Marrone, instructed him to — a claim Marrone denied in a previous deposition.

"Maybe that was the day I should have been insubordinate," Jordan told the court.


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Brian Jordan, a LACFD fire captain and safety officer who responded after the crash, said he doesn't even know who Gianna Bryant is

Kobe and Gianna Bryant
A bronze sculpture honoring former Los Angeles Lakers NBA basketball player Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna Bryant, and the names of those who died, is displayed at the site of a 2020 helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif, on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022.(AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Vanessa Bryant's attorney also asked whether Brian Jordan, the Retired LACFD Fire Captain and Safety Officer, took any photos of 13-year-old Gianna Bryant's remains at the scene.

"I don't even know who that is. Sorry for your loss, wherever Vanessa Bryant is," he answered. Vanessa Bryant was seated on the plaintiff's bench, a few feet away from Jordan.


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Why a coroner shared graphic description of the bodies from the crash site in testimony

Kobe Bryant
Harry How / Getty Images

Vanessa Bryant's trial against Los Angeles County is set to resume Monday. Among the testimony so far, the jury has heard from a county coroner, who described in graphic detail the state of the victims' bodies after the crash.

The county had previously opposed letting the coroner describe the bodies. Though the coroner did not share photos with the jury, her verbal description offered a glimpse into what photos shared by county first responders may have shown.

In a pre-trial conference A lawyer for the county told Insider that the plaintiffs aimed "to inflame the jury's emotions by conflating the coroner's photos, taken for an entirely different purpose, with the photos taken by the Sheriff's and Fire Departments."

But Judge John Walter granted attorneys the ability to call in the coroner, saying that the photos are "plaintiff's best evidence of what the photos depicted," and added that they would not be shown publicly at all, not even to the jury.


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A law enforcement expert said it's common for first responders to share victim photos, but that the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department should have a policy in place related to photographing human remains

Vanessa Bryant (left) and Kobe Bryant (right) touching heads to pose for a photo in black and white attire
Vanessa Bryant and Kobe BryantDonato Sardella/Getty Images

Adam Bercovici, a law enforcement expert, was called by Vanessa Bryant's team to testify on Friday about the policies surrounding saving photos.


He told the court earlier that in his 30 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, he was shown photos of deceased victims on multiple occasions by other officers – including a Polaroid from the scene of Nicole Brown Simpson's death. Sometimes, crash victims were kept by law enforcement in souvenir "ghoul books."


Bercovici also chided the LASD's lack of clear site photo policy related to human remains, and the ensuing deletion order and lack of discipline by Sheriff Alex Villanueva the month after the crash.


"That was not an inquiry, that was calling in deputies to delete evidence," Bercovici told the court.


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An LA Sheriff's Deputy who photographed Kobe Bryant's body after the crash has no regrets over the way the pictures were handled

Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputy Doug Johnson was among the first to respond to the crash site in January 2020.

He told the court that he had taken close to 25 photos of human remains at the scene.

Johnson confirmed to the court on Friday that he had no regrets about taking the photos, or about airdropping all of them to LACFD Captain Brian Jordan who Johnson met at the scene. He also airdropped the photos to another man on the scene who he presumed to be a fire official – someone who has not yet been identified in the process of litigation.

Friday's testimony exposed a worrisome blind spot in the County's handling of the crash: Officials aren't even entirely sure they can trace back every photo, and no staff phones were forensically searched in internal investigations.


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A woman whose family members died in the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash later saw LA County officials sharing photos of the crash at a gala

kobe bryant daughter gigi gianna bryant
Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna Bryant attend a basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center on December 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

A woman who lost two family members in the January 2020 helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna testified in court on Friday that weeks after the tragedy, she witnessed LA County fire officials sharing gruesome photos of the crash site at a gala.

Luella Weireter, an integral witness in Bryant's case, is intrinsically tied to the tragedy; she lost her cousin and in-law in the crash; later witnessed LA county fire officials sharing photos from the scene; and testified on Friday that she previously witnessed an LA sheriff's deputy snap a gruesome photo of a suicide victim in an unrelated matter when she worked as an EMT.

Weireter was one of two private citizens who filed complaints against LA County alleging that she saw two LA fire officials sharing graphic photos from the crash site at an awards ceremony less than a month after the tragedy.

Weireter testified that she heard one official say, "I can't believe I just looked at Kobe's burnt-up body and I'm about to eat."


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Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputy showed a bartender graphic photos of Kobe Bryant's body. Video evidence showed them laughing afterwards.

A private citizen said he felt a "sense of betrayal" when a Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputy showed grisly photos of Kobe Bryant's dead body to a bartender, who went table-to-table telling patrons and employees about what he had just seen.


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A top LA County coroner described in graphic testimony what Kobe Bryant's body looked like

Kobe Bryant places his hands on his knees and looks up during a game in 2007.
Kobe Bryant.Matt Sayles/AP Images

A top Los Angeles County coroner on Thursday testified in graphic detail about the state of Kobe Bryant's body following the 2020 helicopter crash.

Testimony from Capt. Emily Tauscher, the head of investigations at the LA County coroner's office, took center stage on the second day of the trial between Vanessa Bryant and Los Angeles County.

Tauscher painted a gruesome picture of the crash site, offering detailed insight into the grisly scene that would've been captured in the photos. She also discussed the photo practices of the coroner's office — describing a more ad-hoc approach to site photography in the sheriff's department's system that could've allowed photos to be taken and shared.


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Lakers GM Rob Pelinka described visiting the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash site with Vanessa Bryant

Rob Pelinka leaves the courthouse
Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka leaves a federal courthouse after attending Vanessa Bryant's invasion of privacy trial against the Los Angeles County sheriff's and fire departments in Los Angeles, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022. Kobe Bryant's widow is taking her lawsuit against the Los Angeles County sheriff's and fire departments to a federal jury, seeking compensation for photos deputies shared of the remains of the NBA star, his daughter and seven others killed in a helicopter crash in 2020.(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Six months after the deadly helicopter crash, Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka and Vanessa Bryant took an all-terrain vehicle up the nearly 1,200-foot hill where Kobe and Gigi died.

"Part of her journey of grief and healing was that she wanted to touch the soil from where they went to heaven," Pelinka told the court on Wednesday of Vanessa's decision to visit the crash site. "We just knew that they were with us."

Pelinka's emotional testimony provided a window into Vanessa Bryant's emotional state after the crash, and how her distress was compounded after learning that illicit crash site photos were taken.


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County lawyer says first responders 'put their lives on the line' to respond to crash

In opening statements, county attorney Mira Hashmall said that first responders from various agencies documented the crash site per their agency policies and "put their lives on the line" to respond to the crash and put out a resulting bushfire.

Hashmall added in her opening statement that 18 different federal and state agencies responded to the crash scene, including the FBI – and claimed that media agencies were the only entities who publicly disseminated photos of the crash.

Hashmall said LASD Sheriff Alex Villanueva's deletion order to staff who took photos helped "contain" the spread of the photos amid "lapses in judgment" from County staff who sent photos to each other.

Vanessa Bryant said in her deposition that she learned of the crash via social media.


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Vanessa Bryant is suing LA county officials, alleging photos were taken and shared of the 2020 helicopter crash site.

Vanessa Bryant
Vanessa Bryant, center, the widow of Kobe Bryant, leaves a federal courthouse in Los Angeles, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022. Kobe Bryant's widow is taking her lawsuit against the Los Angeles County sheriff's and fire departments to a federal jury, seeking compensation for photos deputies shared of the remains of the NBA star, his daughter and seven others killed in a helicopter crash in 2020.(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The trial began on Wednesday with opening statements from LA County lawyers and Vanessa Bryant's legal team. The widow wore black and held back tears throughout the first day of the trial.

In September 2020, Vanessa Bryant sued the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the county's fire department, the county as a whole, and eight officers in the wake of reports broken by the LA Times that first responders took and shared photos of the January 2020 crash site.

Her suit is seeking punitive damages from county defendants who are accused of taking and sharing crash site photos. Bryant is suing the county for negligence, emotional distress, and invasion of privacy claims as well as federal claims which relate to the constitutional right to the images of her deceased loved ones, and LA County agency practices that led to the alleged taking and dissemination of photos.

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