Skip to main content

Acting Fire Chief Testifies That Captain Who Photographed Kobe Bryant Crash Scene ‘Tarnished’ His Own Dignity

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 the basketball legend 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 top-ranked county official 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.”

Jordan fled the witness stand three times last week, testifying that he had no memory of being at the crash scene but that he was sure Marrone had instructed him to take photos.

The chief steadfastly denied that in his own sworn testimony Monday, and he confirmed through questioning from Hashmall that he’d hand-delivered disciplinary letters to Jordan, Imbrenda and Kahan. He also gave jurors more to consider when weighing one of many credibility contests created in testimony: Imbrenda’s steadfast denial that his discussion of the photos during the Feb. 15, 2020, Golden Mike Awards gala was inappropriate or that his girlfriend asked Luella Weireter to see them not knowing her cousin had died in the crash.

Not only was Imbrenda disciplined for showing the photos at the gala, but Marrone testified that he himself called Werieter about her complaint that Imbrenda had shown the photos as entertainment to a group while at the gala. “I apologized for what she say or heard, because she was upset,” Marrone said.

The Golden Mike incident also was addressed in testimony from Los Angeles County fire Capt. Sky Cornell last Thursday, who denied saying aloud that he’d seen a photo of Kobe Bryant’s burnt body. Weireter testified emotionally that she heard him say it clearly, but Cornell said, “I would never have said that,” though he said in a previous internal interview that the comment “sounds like something I would say.”

Jennifer Bryant, one of Vanessa Bryant’s lawyers who coincidentally shares her last name, asked Cornell to confirm he was denying under oath that he made the comment.

“Yes, I deny that,” Cornell testified.

Monday began with testimony from sheriff’s Commander William Jaeger, who was captain of the sheriff’s internal affairs bureau when it opened an investigation into the crash photos. The investigation began on Feb. 28, 2020, which is the day the Los Angeles Times published an article that first reported deputies had taken and share photos of human remains at the crash scene. The testimony reiterated that deputies weren’t informed of a letter Vanessa Bryant’s lawyer Luis Li sent demanding the preservation of all photos and related evidence, and all deputies replaced the phones with which they sent and received the photos.

The day ended with testimony from LA County sheriff’s Sgt. Travis Kelly, who said he ordered the crash site to be photographed as a standard practice, and that anyone who shared the photos publicly would be violating the department’s policies on confidentiality and showing good judgment.

Testimony continues Tuesday at 8 a.m. Follow reporter Meghann Cuniff on Twitter for live updates from the courthouse.

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow Law&Crime:

A graduate of the University of Oregon, Meghann worked at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, and the Idaho Statesman in Boise, Idaho, before moving to California in 2013 to work at the Orange County Register. She spent four years as a litigation reporter for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and one year as a California-based editor and reporter for and associated publications such as The National Law Journal and New York Law Journal before joining Law & Crime News. Meghann has written for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Bloomberg Law, ABA Journal, The Forward, Los Angeles Business Journal and the Laguna Beach Independent. Her Twitter coverage of federal court hearings in a lawsuit over homelessness in Los Angeles placed 1st in the Los Angeles Press Club's Southern California Journalism Awards for Best Use of Social Media by an Independent Journalist in 2021. An article she freelanced for Los Angeles Times Community News about a debate among federal judges regarding the safety of jury trials during COVID also placed 1st in the Orange County Press Club Awards for Best Pandemic News Story in 2021.