Kobe Bryant Helicopter Crash Photos Trial Updates

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

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)

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

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

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

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)

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 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.

Kobe and Gigi Bryant take in a UConn basketball game.
AP Photo/Jessica Hill

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.
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

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

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.
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

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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