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Officer accused of leaking Kobe Bryant death photos caught in video allegedly kneeling on inmate’s head

The Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy who was accused of leaking pictures of US basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s dead body has been caught on camera allegedly kneeling on an inmate’s head in a fresh controversy

The deputy, Douglas Johnson, is at the centre of scrutiny over the 3-minute video relating to an incident from March 2021, and LA county attornies are seeking to prevent the kneeling scandal from affecting a trial relating to the Bryant photos scheduled for late July.

Vanessa Bryant, the wife of the late NBA star, sued the Los Angeles County sheriff and fire department workers for allegedly taking and sharing pictures of the human remains from site of the helicopter crash that killed Bryant and their daughter Gianna Bryant in January 2020.

In a video shared by Knock LA from the March 2021 incident, Mr Johnson was purportedly seen kneeling on the head of an inmate after the inmate punched him. The incident did not come to light till a year later in March 2022, when an LA Times report claimed the sheriff’s office had attempted to cover it up.

The county argued in documents filed in court on Friday that the March 2021 incident has nothing to do with the alleged leaking of pictures from the crash site.

“The incident at the jail and LASD’s response are entirely unrelated to the crash scene photos at issue in this matter,” county attorneys said in the filing. “The incident is not only irrelevant, but also highly inflammatory — touching on one of the most contentious issues in our society, accusations of excessive force by police officers.”

The Bryant family’s attorney would not agree to exclude questions about the incident during the trial, therefore the judge is expected to decide the matter before trial.

Kobe Bryant and Vanessa Laine Bryant, Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant, and Natalia Diamante Bryant attend the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Sports Awards 2016 at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion in 2016

(Getty Images)

Luis Li, an attorney representing Ms Bryant, said on Friday: “We look forward to responding in court.”

The sheriff’s office is accused of covering up Mr Johnson’s alleged abuse of the inmate, “given its nature and its similarities to [the] widely publicised George Floyd use of force [case],” the LA Times reported citing a commander who wrote in an internal force review.

During the incident, deputies were conducting routine searches of inmates before their court appearances. They told the inmates not to make noise as the pair continued laughing and talking.

One of them, Enzo Escalante, 24, was pushed towards a wall by Mr Johnson, at which point the inmate turned around and punched the sheriff in the face multiple times, according to reports.

Mr Johnson and other deputies pinned him on the ground and the inmate was handcuffed as the sheriff knelt on the head of Mr Escalante.

The department did not pursue any charges against Mr Escalante as they feared the case would draw attention and bring negative publicity, sheriff’s commander Allen Castellano is reported to have said in the internal report.

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