Fire Chief Testifies on Crash Photos

A man in a uniform walks out of the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles

Anthony Marrone, acting chief of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, leaves the Los Angeles federal courthouse on Monday, Aug. 22, 2022. (Photo: Meghann M. Cuniff/Law&Crime)

The acting chief of the Los Angeles County Fire Department testified Monday that he didn’t know a now-retired captain who photographed human remains at the site of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, seven more passengers, and the pilot returned his county-owned laptop without a hard drive.

“As you sit here today, you have no idea where the hard drive is?” asked attorney Jerry Jackson.

“No, I don’t,” answered Anthony Marrone.

“Does that alarm you?” Jackson asked.

“Yes, it does,” the acting chief replied.

The courtroom revelation came during Jackson’s cross-examination of Marrone, who was called as a witness for Los Angeles County as it defends against lawsuits over photos sheriff and fire officials shared of human remains from the Jan. 26, 2020, crash that killed Kobe Bryant and his and Vanessa Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant. Jackson represents Christopher Chester, whose wife, Sarah George Chester, and daughter, Payton Chester, also died in the crash.

In direct exam, Marrone testified that he never instructed Capt. Brian Jordan to photograph the crash site as Jordan testified last week, and he emphasized that he ordered no photos be taken of the victims’ remains. He also said he shared photos he received of the crash site with an investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board.

His testimony appears to have been part of Los Angeles County’s defense that the sheriff’s and fire departments thoroughly investigated who took photos of human remains at the site of the Jan. 26, 2020, crash, and how the photos were distributed.

LA County lawyer Mira Hashmall went over discipline imposed against Jordan and two other fire captains who photographed the scene, Tony Imbrenda and Arlin Kahan, and she questioned Marrone about the department’s code of ethics, which instructs the 5,000 employees not to make public statements about department business.

Any sharing of photos from the crash site would violate that, he said.

Marrone’s testimony about the ethics code fits with testimony Hashmall and her team have been eliciting about a confidentiality policy within the sheriff’s department as well as a requirement that all sheriff’s personnel use good judgment. Bryant and Chester’s liability claims against the county blame a lack of training and policies for the sheriff’s and fire personnel’s use of the photos, which included a deputy showing them at a bar and fire captains looking at them over cocktails during an awards gala.

But much of his other testimony underscores the investigative shortcomings Bryant and Chester’s lawyers have been highlighting in their case, and he’s not the first high-ranking county officials to be surprised on the witness stand: Sheriff Alex Villanueva testified Friday he didn’t know of the missing hard drive; nor did he know that the original crash scene photographer, Deputy Doug Johnson, said he sent the photos to a high-ranking fire official who has never been identified.

Jackson pressed Marrone about Jordan’s testimony that he instructed him to “take pictures, take pictures, take pictures.”

“If Capt. Jordan claimed you had said that, that wouldn’t be true, correct?” Jackson asked.

“That’s correct. That’s not true,” Marrone answered.

Marrone also agreed with Jackson that the fire department had no need for closeup photographs of human remains at the crash site. As he has with other county officials, Jackson pressed Marrone about whether the photography harmed the dignity of the victims, with Marrone repeating that he believes photos of human remains are unnecessary and inappropriate.

“I would like to think the dignity of the victims remains no matter what we do, because they are dignified people,” the acting chief testified.

Asked what Jordan’s photography did to the dignity at the crash site, Marrone answered, “I think Capt. Jordan’s dignity was tarnished.”

This is a developing story.

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