Deputy says he has no regrets taking photos of Kobe crash remains
The rep, who took dozens of close-up photos of human remains from the helicopter wreck that killed Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, testified Friday that he had no regrets – and said he didn’t know the NBA Legend is one of the victims.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Doug Johnson stepped in on the third day of Vanessa Bryant’s federal lawsuit against the county, saying he took 25 pictures at the California crash site and texted them to two firefighters he believed had killed they take command.
Johnson said about a third of his images were close-ups of body parts and told the court they were taken at the behest of Dept. Raul Versales, who was at the command post at the foot of Calabasas Hill where the helicopter struck.
Lawyers for Bryant, who claim workers took “pictures as souvenirs,” countered Johnson’s claim by playing a recording of Versales and saying, “All of us at the command post, including myself, did not request photos.”
The deputy’s testimony also contradicted the affidavit of Malibu Search & Rescue Team Reserve Deputy David Katz, who told the court Thursday that Johnson told him he took 100 pictures.
Johnson testified that he and another MP hiked the rough terrain of the hill and arrived at the crash site around 11:30 a.m. on January 26, 2020 to find them littered with severed body parts.
Upon arrival, he spoke to two men he believed to be Los Angeles County Fire officials, he testified. Johnson told them that one of his duties was to take photos of the entire scene.
When asked if he took that to mean he was being instructed to take close-up photos of body parts, Johnson replied, “Yes sir.”
The deputy testified that he took footage of a black man’s severed arm and hand, a close-up of a shin, a black foot and a torso found near the helicopter. The pictures were believed to show the retired 41-year-old NBA star.
“I don’t remember seeing the victim’s head,” Johnson said. “I remember [it having] have a torso and pants.”
Johnson said he also took close-up photos of bodies in a ravine. One of them was a child with long black hair and black skin – believed to be Gianna, 13.
He sent the grisly images to Captain Brian Johnson and another uniformed firefighter, who he assumed was a captain, according to witnesses. That person remained unknown, he told the court.
One of Vanessa’s attorneys, Eric Tuttle, once asked, “Has it ever occurred to you that it’s not appropriate to have close-up pictures of human remains on your personal cell phone?”
Johnson replied, “No, sir,” repeating the answer when asked if he regretted taking the photos or if he would have done anything differently.
During cross-examination, LA County Defense Attorney, County Sheriffs and County Fire Department Jennifer Mira Hashmall asked Johnson if he knew who was involved in the crash at the time.
“When you took the pictures, did you know that it was Kobe Bryant who was on the air?”
“No, ma’am,” the deputy replied.
Johnson said an internal investigation was being conducted and he was interviewed twice, but said he was never disciplined in relation to a complaint filed by Deputy Katz.
Attorneys for Vanessa have claimed that county officials inappropriately shared the private pictures, which caused her “severe emotional distress and compounded the trauma of the loss of Kobe and Gianna.”
The widow broke down in tears Thursday when a bartender said a deputy showed her pictures of Kobe’s remains while she sat behind the stick.
Earlier Friday, a retired police officer testified that LA officers have a culture of keeping “ghoul books” with graphic photos of dead celebrities and other high-profile victims for their own amusement.
Kobe, Gianna and seven others – Christina Mauser; Payton and Sarah Chester; John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli; and pilot Ara Zobayan – died when Bryant’s helicopter collided with a hill amid thick fog.
The group had been en route to a youth basketball game in Thousand Oaks.