More On: Kobe Bryant
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The deputy who took dozens of close-up photos of human remains from the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna testified Friday that he didn't regret what he did and didn't know that Kobe Bryant was one of the victims.
Doug Johnson, a deputy for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, testified on the third day of Vanessa Bryant's federal lawsuit against the county. He said he took 25 pictures at the crash site in California and texted them to two firefighters he thought were in charge.
Johnson told the court that about a third of his photos were close-ups of body parts. He said he did this at the request of Dept. Raul Versales, who was at the command post at the bottom of the Calabasas hill where the helicopter crashed.
Lawyers for Bryant say that workers took "pictures as souvenirs." To counter Johnson's claim, Bryant's lawyers played a recording of Versales saying, "All of us at the command post, including myself, did not ask for photographs."
The deputy's testimony also went against what Malibu Search & Rescue Team Reserve Deputy David Katz said under oath on Thursday, when he said Johnson told him he took 100 pictures.
Johnson testified that he and another deputy hiked through the hillside's rough terrain and got to the crash site at about 11:30 a.m. on January 26, 2020, where they found body parts all over the place.
He said that when he got there, he talked to two men he thought were from Los Angeles County Fire. One of Johnson's jobs, he told them, was to take pictures of the whole scene.
When asked if he thought that meant he was supposed to take close-ups of parts of the body, Johnson said, "Yes, sir."
The deputy testified that he took pictures of a black man's detached arm and hand, a close-up of a shin, a foot with dark skin, and a torso that was found near the helicopter. Most likely, the pictures were of the 41-year-old NBA player who had just retired.
“I don’t remember seeing the victim’s head,” Johnson said. “I remember [it having] a torso and having pants.”
Johnson said he also took close-up pictures of bodies in a ravine. One of them was a child with long black hair and black skin — presumably Gianna, 13.
He sent the grisly pictures to Capt. Brian Johnson and another uniformed firefighter that he assumed was a captain, according to the testimony. That person remained unidentified, he told the court.
At one point, one of Vanessa’s attorneys, Eric Tuttle, asked, “Did it ever occur to you that it is not appropriate to have close-ups of human remains on your personal cell phone?”
Johnson replied, “No, sir,” and repeated the answer when asked if he regretted taking the photos or if he would have done anything differently.
During cross examination, Jennifer Mira Hashmall, the defense attorney representing LA County, county sheriffs and the county fire department, asked Johnson if he knew who was involved in the crash at the time.
“When you took the pictures, did you know it was Kobe Bryant who was in the air?”
“No, ma’am,” the deputy replied.
Johnson said there was an internal investigation and he was interviewed twice, but he was never punished because of Deputy Katz's complaint.
Vanessa's lawyers say that county officials shared the private pictures without permission, which caused her "severe emotional distress" and added to the pain of losing Kobe and Gianna.
Thursday, Kobe's wife cried when a bartender said that a deputy had shown him pictures of Kobe's body while the deputy was in jail.
Earlier on Friday, a retired LAPD officer testified that it is common for officers there to keep "ghoul books" with graphic photos of dead celebrities and other well-known people for their own amusement.
When Bryant's helicopter hit a hillside in thick fog, Kobe, Gianna, and seven other people died, including Christina Mauser, Payton and Sarah Chester, John, Keri, and Alyssa Altobelli, and pilot Ara Zobayan.
The group was going to a basketball game for kids in Thousand Oaks.