Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy accused of leaking photos of the dead body of American basketball legend Kobe Bryant has been caught on camera, allegedly kneeling on an inmate’s head in a new controversy
The deputy, Douglas Johnson, is at the center of the investigation over the 3-minute video related to a March 2021 incident, as LA County attorneys try to prevent the knee-jerk scandal from affecting a lawsuit related to the Bryant photos slated for late July.
Vanessa Bryant, wife of the late NBA star, has sued the Los Angeles County sheriff and firefighters for allegedly taking and sharing photos of the human remains of the helicopter crash that killed Bryant and their daughter Gianna Bryant in January 2020.
In a video shared by Knock LA of the March 2021 incident, Mr Johnson was reportedly seen kneeling on an inmate’s head after the inmate punched him. The incident only came to light a year later in March 2022, when a LA Times report claimed the sheriff’s office had tried 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 leak of photos from the crash site.
“The prison incident and LASD’s response have absolutely nothing to do with the crime scene photos at issue in this case,” county attorneys said in the file. “The incident is not only irrelevant, but highly incendiary – it touches on one of the most controversial issues in our society, allegations of excessive force by police officers.”
The Bryant family’s attorney would not agree to rule out questions about the incident during the trial, so the judge is expected to rule the case before the trial.
Luis Li, an attorney representing Bryant, said Friday, “We look forward to responding in court.”
The sheriff’s office is accused of covering up the alleged abuse of the prisoner by Mr Johnson, “given the nature and similarities with [the] widespread use of force by George Floyd [case],” the LA Times reported that he quoted a commander writing in an internal force.
During the incident, officers conducted routine home searches of inmates before appearing in court. They told the inmates not to make any noise as the couple continued to laugh and talk.
One of them, Enzo Escalante, 24, was pushed into a wall by Mr Johnson, after which the inmate turned and punched the sheriff several times in the face, according to reports.
Mr Johnson and other deputies pinned him to the ground and the prisoner was handcuffed while the sheriff knelt on Mr Escalante’s head.
The department has not filed charges against Mr Escalante, fearing the case would attract attention and generate negative publicity, Sheriff Commander Allen Castellano said in the internal report.