A retired Los Angeles County fire captain, who allegedly took photographs of human remains at the scene of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others and then sent the images to at least one other employee, testified on Monday, Aug. 15, that he was ordered to take the pictures.
In awkward testimony that ranged from conflicted to hostile, Brian Jordan said he had little memory of the day or of seeing horrific scenes that “are gonna haunt me forever.”
Jordan was called to the stand in the federal civil lawsuit brought by the Laker star’s widow and another family. Vanessa Bryant and Chris Chester are suing the county for negligence and invasion of privacy over the photos.
Bryant’s husband and 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and Chester’s wife, Sarah, and 13-year-old daughter Payton were among the nine people killed in the crash.
Jordan was criticized by the Los Angeles County Fire Department after it determined his photographs from the crash scene had “no legitimate business purpose” and “only served to appeal to baser instincts and desires for what amounted to visual gossip,” according to court records.
Before he could be terminated from his job, Jordan retired, in early 2021, citing his mental health, court papers show. Steven Haney, Jordan’s attorney, wrote in a filing that his client was “simply obeying orders” when he snapped the photos at the scene of the Jan. 26, 2020, crash.
Jordan was clearly troubled when he appeared in the seventh-floor courtroom where the trial has been playing out since Wednesday. He had trouble answering questions and carried on asides with U.S. District Judge John Walter, who at one point advised him to “hang in there” and “do the best you can.”
He said he did not remember whether he used his personal cell phone or a county-issued device to snap photos, what he took pictures of, or even if he had been at the crash scene at all.
When an attorney for Chester described the catastrophic injuries suffered by his client’s wife in an attempt to jar Jordan’s memories, the witness snapped: “Excuse me, I need to take another break,” and quickly walked off of the stand and out of Walter’s courtroom.
When he returned, Jordan told jurors that he was “ordered” by a superior officer to go to the accident site, take photos, “and cover up a particular person,” meaning the remains of Bryant.
“I was there, (but) I do not remember being there,” he told plaintiff’s attorney Jerry Jackson. “So please do not keep describing that scene to me.”
Jordan explained to an attorney for the county that his emotional problems stem from “the injury I suffered from whatever I saw up there (at the crash site).” After a long pause, he added, “My memory is not clear.”
The plaintiffs accuse Los Angeles County’s first responders of taking cellphone pictures of human remains at the remote Calabasas crash site for “souvenirs” and sharing them with other law-enforcement personnel and members of the public.
The county contends all images taken by its sheriff’s deputies and firefighters were quickly destroyed, no longer exist in any form, and never entered the public domain.
Also Monday, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Deputy Joey Cruz testified that on the night of Jan. 28, 2020, he went to the Baja California Bar & Grill in Norwalk and showed his bartender friend crash-site photos containing human remains stored on his personal cell phone.
“Some of my photos had, like, a torso, another one had a leg, another one had a hand,” he told the jury, which includes a nun. “That’s the most I remember about the photos.”
Cruz said that none of the victims could be identified from the photos. However, in a March 30, 2020, videotaped interview conducted with Sheriff’s Department investigators that was played for jurors, the deputy indicted that he could identify Bryant’s body in one of the photos from his “skin tone.”
Jurors at the trial heard on Friday from a sheriff’s deputy who was among the first to arrive at the crash scene and testified that he snapped 25 pictures on his cell phone, a third of which contained close-up images of body parts.
Deputy Doug Johnson said he hiked for more than an hour through remote, brush-filled terrain to get to the site, and taped off the area before snapping photos to “document” the devastation at the request of a deputy at the command post.
Bryant and Chester say they suffer from emotional distress at the possibility of pictures of their family members’ broken bodies one day surfacing on the internet.
Under questioning by a lawyer for Bryant, Johnson testified he texted the 25 photos to the command post deputy and airdropped them to a county fire supervisor.
As for the phone itself, he said he lost it the following year in Las Vegas.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs contend that after Johnson sent the photos, the images spread to at least 10 others, with some displaying them for members of the public.
Two other families with loved ones on the helicopter settled somewhat-similar claims for $1.25 million each. They also accused county first responders of improperly sharing photos of their dead relatives.
Source: Orange County Register