A Los Angeles fire captain on the scene of the helicopter crash that left Kobe Bryant and eight others dead testified Monday that the trauma of witnessing the remains of the accident pushed him to retire.
Testifying in Vanessa Bryant's lawsuit against Los Angeles County, in which she is alleging that first responders to the scene publicly shared gruesome photos of Kobe, their 13-year-old daughter Gianna and the other victims' bodies, former fire captain Brian Jordan said that the memory of the images still haunts him, and denied improperly sharing the photos.
Jordan is accused of taking graphic, closely-cropped photos of body parts on the scene, but says he was only doing as he was instructed. As prosecutors described the photos of the body parts, Jordan grew angry, and repeatedly left the courtroom.
"It was horrifying and what put me off the job," he said.
Jordan, who retired in 2021, testified that he has mentally blocked out the day. "I was there. I do not remember being there. Please stop describing the scene to me," he said. Jordan said he deleted the pictures from his devices and cannot recall specifics. "Please refrain from taking my brain back to that crash site," he said. "I'm not sure what I was taking pictures of."
When asked if he photographed Kobe's remains, Jordan asked to take a break and leave the courtroom. Upon his return, he said, "I have an image in my head that is not pleasant."
"The way that whole scene looked is going to haunt me forever," he said.
Clicks Images/Getty Images Kobe Bryant
This is the fourth day of trial proceedings in Bryant's case against L.A. County, in which she's alleging emotional distress and mental anguish after learning that the crash scene photos were publicly shared on at least 28 devices owned by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and by more than a dozen first responders.
During the proceedings Monday, Bryant, 40, frequently had her head in her hands, and did not look at the witnesses.
Nicholas Hunt/Getty Vanessa and Kobe Bryant
Last week, multiple witnesses took the stand, including former bartender Victor Gutierrez, who said he was shown photos of Kobe's body by deputy trainee Joey Cruz during his bartending shift, USA Today reported Thursday. The jury also heard from Ralph Mendez Jr., a bar patron who said he witnessed the interaction and then filed a formal complaint with the sheriff's department.
The jury was also shown video footage of Cruz and Gutierrez at the bar, which reportedly showed the two men looking at Cruz's phone and laughing. Gutierrez is then seen motioning to his throat, head, and torso, which Bryant's attorney suggested was in reference to the condition of the victim's bodies. USA Today stated that Gutierrez refuted the idea, telling the courtroom, "You gotta be psycho to do that."
Cruz testified Monday and admitted to trying to show the photos to his niece, who refused to look. He was reprimanded, but remained on the force.
Bryant's legal team is expected to call around 30 witnesses to the stand over the next few days.
Her lawyer, Luis Li, said in opening statements that Bryant has dealt with emotional damage since learning that the photos were shared publicly.
"January 26, 2020, was and always will be the worst day of Vanessa Bryant's life," Li told the jury Wednesday. "County employees exploited the accident. They took and shared pictures of Kobe and Gianna as souvenirs. …They poured salt in an unhealable wound."
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He added that first responders "walked around the wreckage and took pictures of broken bodies from the helicopter crash. They took close-ups of limbs, of burnt flesh. It shocks the conscience."
L.A. County had tried to dismiss Bryant's lawsuit in Dec. 2021, but a judge refused their request. In her declaration filed in response to a motion, Bryant said she's felt "tremendous pain and distress."
Bryant said in part, "It infuriates me that the people I trusted to protect the dignity of my husband and daughter abused their positions to obtain souvenirs of their deaths, as though possessing pictures of their remains somehow makes them special."
"I feel sick at the thought that deputies and firefighters have gawked at photos of my husband's and child's bodies without any reason," she added. "I also feel extreme sadness and anger knowing that photos of my husband's and daughter's bodies were laughed about while shown at a bar and an awards banquet. Given how many people had the photos, I am confident these were not the only times the photos were shown off."
Along with Kobe and their daughter Gianna, the 2020 helicopter crash also claimed the lives of 13-year-old Payton Chester, Sarah Chester, 46, 14-year-old Alyssa Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, 46, John Altobelli, 56, Christina Mauser, 38, and pilot Ara Zobayan, 50.