On Friday, the deputy sheriff from Los Angeles County testified in federal court that he simply followed orders to take close-up photos of the bodies of NBA legend Kobe Bryant and others who were killed in the helicopter crash. He emphasized that he did not do anything wrong and just obeyed the order to capture images of the accident scene.
“That possessed a Black complexion” and “a leg that had a Black complexion.” A lower leg and a “close-up of a twisted upper body, encompassing approximately 25 pictures, he mentioned capturing. Raul Versales, another deputy sheriff stationed at his control center, informed Douglas Johnson, the deputy, to carry out this task.”
During the court proceedings on Friday, the accuracy of both of those statements was brought into question by lawyers representing Vanessa Bryant, the widow of Kobe, and Chris Chester, a financial advisor who tragically lost his wife and daughter in the same accident.
Eric Tuttle, Bryant’s lawyer, asked, “Do you know that Deputy Versales has rejected your January 2020 photo-taking request?”
“I am not,” Johnson stated.
Tuttle subsequently showcased “Exhibit 111-A,” a recorded conversation with Versales that had previously been carried out by the sheriff’s internal affairs bureau investigators.
“All of us at the command post, including myself, we did not request photographs,” Versales said on the recording played in court.
Despite the legitimate business reasons for not sharing and taking photos of their deceased loved ones from the crash scene, employees from the fire department and county sheriff’s department accused Chester and Bryant of not doing so. This was the second consecutive day that Bryant left the courtroom early, making it another difficult day for Vanessa Bryant’s civil trial against Los Angeles County.
Johnson, the deputy whom Bryant’s team suspects took them for questionable motives, testified on Friday alongside two other witnesses, stating that he initiated the circulation of the disturbing photos among the sheriff’s personnel. On Day 2, a male juror withdrew from the case due to family-related reasons, resulting in a jury composed of four women and five men to proceed with the trial.
Johnson’s circumstances were challenging as he was trying his best to handle the situation at hand. However, it was unclear why Attorney Bryant informed him about taking these photos. There seemed to be no valid reason for Johnson to be instructed to take these photos by Attorney Bryant.
Testimony from Johnson
The situation is crucial to what occurred afterwards. He proceeded to trek for approximately one hour through challenging, undulating landscape to arrive at the site of the accident. He traveled to the location and answered the radio dispatch regarding the helicopter collision in Calabasas when Johnson was on duty that morning.
According to him, he captured around 25 photographs, with roughly one-third of them displaying human remains.
MORE: Vanessa Bryant departs from the courtroom while testimony regarding the photographs of the crash is being given.
EMOTIONAL STATEMENTS: Weeping, witness accounts, and information regarding a fatal accident.
Los Angeles Lakers General Manager, Rob Pelinka, fights to restrain his emotions as he testifies in the trial concerning the images of the Kobe Bryant accident.
Katz, the leader of a search and rescue team and a reserve deputy, testified in court the previous day, on Thursday, that his supervisor had instructed him not to take photos and had also been taken to the crash scene. He further stated that he had heard a conflicting account from another witness.
When Katz arrived at the scene, he saw a deputy in uniform taking photos, scattered with debris and covering all parts of the body.
The name on this deputy’s identification badge was “Johnson.”.
“I did inform him that my supervisor instructed me not to capture images,” Katz testified on Thursday.
Johnson responded that he had already captured photographs.
“Did he not inform you that he had captured over 100 photographs?” Inquired Jerome Jackson, Chester’s legal representative.
“I think that’s what he mentioned,” Katz responded.
After being confronted by attorney Bryant in court, Johnson denied taking many photos on Friday, addressing the conflicting statement from Versales about the issue again, under friendlier questioning from lead counsel Hashmall Mira of the county.
Versales may not have been the one, but there were pictures documenting the scene that someone from the radio handheld device requested to post. Additionally, he mentioned that he also received a request from someone I spoke to on my cell phone, who claimed to be a deputy from Versales. “I believe it was him,” he said at this time.
Tuttle, the attorney representing Under, questioned Johnson and confirmed that he did not enter the photos into evidence. Furthermore, Johnson admitted to deleting the photos from his personal iPhone after he returned home and took a shower. Versales also acknowledged through a text message thread that he had deleted the photos.
Prior to that, he stated that he had solely dispatched the photographs to Versales and an unidentified supervisor from the fire department.
After the collision, the bartender in Norwalk, California was presented with the photographs by deputy trainee Joey Cruz, who had received them on his phone two days prior. The images had circulated amongst the sheriff’s staff before reaching him.
Johnson stated that he would not make any changes, but mentioned, “I am aware of it,” when questioned about his knowledge of the incident involving Cruz.
Outside of county personnel, the photos were never “publicly disseminated” and Hashmall has said the county first responders were doing their jobs.
Another observer confirmed that statement on Friday.
The firefighter’s spouse
Altobelli’s spouse and child, as well as Bryant’s daughter Gianna, were among the nine individuals who perished in the crash. Altobelli Keri, who was also the cousin of Luella Weireter, lost her life in the tragic incident. Luella Weireter, on the other hand, is the wife of a firefighter and her name is Luella.
Weireter attended the Mike Golden Awards show in February 2020 at a hotel, where a group of people gathered around Captain Tony Imbrenda, who was showing group photos on his phone, as if it was a tricky party.
According to the testimony of another employee from the group, I believe I looked burnt-out at Kobe’s body and now I can’t eat. Then, I walked away from the department fire.
Johnson, the final witness of the day, gave his testimony in court. Throughout his statement, Bryant completely avoided the courtroom. Reacting to Weireter’s testimony, she shielded her face and eyes with her hands and leaned forward in her seat.
Weireter was the initial witness of the day and declared that she informed a fire battalion chief in March regarding what she had heard.
“Weireter said that something needed to be done about him flaunting the photos.”
During the cross-examination, she mentioned that she did not see the photos and did not know if the person depicted in them was actually Kobe Bryant.
The police specialist
Adam Bercovici, a former member of the Los Angeles Police Department, testified on behalf of the plaintiffs, stating that he retired nearly 30 years ago, about 10 years before he testified. Weireter, an expert on police procedures and policies, took the stand and followed suit.
He spent more than three hours essentially criticizing the sheriff’s department, mostly standing on the bar after receiving a complaint about the incident and soon questioning the deletion of the photos.
Not, however, have sufficient policies in place to prevent the misuse of such photos, testified the law enforcement officers who also keep and take grisly photos from scenes of accidents or crimes as souvenirs.
He stated that the reason they engage in this behavior is because it is something intriguing and unique that they want to share with their friends.
The county discussed this issue in a short document submitted prior to the trial.
As mentioned earlier this month, the county’s statement indicated, “The intention behind every action was to prevent harm, not to cause it. They took the necessary measures. This marked the initial instance where LASD or LACFD faced accusations of improper photo sharing, and there is no proof that county staff engage in a ‘persistent and widespread’ habit of exchanging ‘death images’ within LASD or LACFD.”