Sheriff's deputies and firefighters accused of circulating photographs of Kobe Bryant’s body at the scene of his death have begun testifying in court.
The NBA legend’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, sued the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in September 2020 over allegations that employees took and shared cellphone images of the crash site where her husband and their 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant, died on Jan. 26, 2020.
Kobe and Gianna were among the nine people killed in a fatal helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. The group had been on their way to a girls basketball tournament when their helicopter crashed due to bad weather, killing everyone on board.
At least eight Los Angeles County employees have been accused of taking graphic pictures of the victims’ damaged bodies with their personal cellphones and circulating the images among colleagues and, in some instances, family members and friends.
“Mrs. Bryant feels ill at the thought that sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and members of the public have gawked at gratuitous images of her deceased husband and child,” the lawsuit states. “She lives in fear that she or her children will one day confront horrific images of their loved ones online.”
The court battle began on Wednesday in Los Angeles, with Bryant in attendance.
According to Rolling Stone, she broke down in quiet sobs as her lawyer, Luis Li, explained to the jury how officials at the scene of the incident “walked around the wreckage and took pictures of broken bodies from the helicopter crash,” claiming that they “took close-ups of limbs, of burnt flesh.”
The fourth day of proceedings got underway on Monday, with a number of Los Angeles County employees and first responders taking the stand to answer questions about their involvement in the dissemination of graphic photographs from the crash site.
Former Los Angeles Fire Department captain and safety officer Brian Jordan was present at the scene of the fatal incident and is one of the first responders accused of taking closely cropped photographs of body parts in the wreckage.
Jordan said in his testimony that he took 25 to 30 images at the scene of the crash, but claimed that he had been ordered to do so by his superior, Fire Chief Anthony Marrone — a claim previously denied by Marrone.
“I followed many instructions that day but was told ‘take pictures, take pictures, take pictures,’” he told the court, per TMZ.
Jordan went on to say that he could not recall details about the day due to memory issues.
“I was there. I do not remember being there. Please stop describing the scene to me,” he said, going on to claim that he does not remember specific details of the photographs, which had been deleted.
“Please refrain from taking my brain back to that crash site,” he added. “I'm not sure what I was taking pictures of.”
Jordan left the courtroom for the first time, accompanied by his lawyer, after being asked if he had photographed Kobe’s body at the scene, prompting him to rise from his seat saying: “I need a break, I need a break.”
“I had an image in my head that was not pleasant,” he said upon his return. “There are these images I've been living with every day … The way that whole scene looked is going to haunt me forever.”
When asked whether he photographed the remains of 13-year-old Gianna, Jordan replied, “I don't even know who that is.” He added, “Sorry for your loss, wherever Vanessa Bryant is.”
Prior to the trial, Jordan had made efforts to avoid testifying, filing a protective order citing the impact that the “horrifying” crash scene had on his mental health. The mental anguish from the incident was also the reason he gave for his retirement from the Fire Department in 2021.
His lawyer, Steven Haney, told CNN that Jordan’s numerous breaks were related to “a medical condition associated with his viewing of the crash scene and it causes him to suffer trauma.”
Reports say that Bryant spent much of Monday’s proceedings with her head resting in her hands, never looking at the witnesses as they spoke.
County lawyers claim that Bryant’s case lacks merit, citing the fact that the graphic images were never leaked to the media.
“The county continues to express its deepest sympathies for the families that suffered this terrible loss,” county lawyer Mira Hashmall told Rolling Stone in a statement last week.
“The county has also worked tirelessly for two and half years to make sure its site photos of the crash were never publicly disseminated,” the statement said. “The evidence shows they never were. And that is fact, not speculation.”