The Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy at the center of a lawsuit filed by Kobe Bryant’s Widow, Vanessa Bryant, accusing first responders of improperly snapping photos at the site of helicopter crash that killed him, is again under fire — this time, over video that shows him kneeling on the head of a jail inmate for three minutes in March 2021.
Vanessa Bryant sued the county in September 2020, months after a helicopter carrying the Lakers legend and their 13-year-old daughter Gianna careened into a hillside in Calabasas, Calif. All nine people onboard, at the time traveling to a youth basketball game in foggy weather, were killed.
In its defense, Los Angeles County filed documents on Friday, seeking to block the clip of Deputy Douglas Johnson and his confrontation with an inmate inside a San Fernando courthouse, according to USA Today. It starts when Johnson and another deputy demand that two inmates in the holding area stop talking. Still, the pair continue to laugh and joke, prompting Johnson to approach one of the men, Enzo Escalante, and order him to face the wall.
According to video obtained by the Los Angeles Times, the deputy can be seen walking close to Escalante, who then turns around suddenly and punches Johnson in the face. The other inmate is almost immediately swept away while, Johnson wrestles Escalante to the ground.
About 20 seconds into the confrontation, Johnson kneels down on Escalante’s head, and then remains in the position for a full three minutes — even after the inmate appears compliant.
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The incident unfolded around the same time of jury selection for the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was later convicted of murdering George Floyd. The Minneapolis police officer was caught on camera kneeling on 46-year-old Floyd’s neck until he became unresponsive. Johnson’s courthouse confrontation did not come to light however until March 2022, when the Los Angeles Times reported sheriff’s officials alleged attempt to cover it up in a bid to avoid bad publicity.
It also came just more than a year after the devastating death of 41-year-old Bryant.
Johnson was among those who responded to site of the crash on Jan. 26, 2020. He’s been identified as the deputy who snapped several graphic close-ups of the NBA superstar and his daughter’s remains with his personal cell phone.
The images were ultimately circulated among at least eight deputies.
The county in court documents have argued the two incident have nothing to do with each, which should, therefore block prosecutors from introducing the video of Johnson kneeling on Escalante as evidence.
“The only reason Plaintiff would seek to elicit testimony about Deputy Johnson’s altercation with the inmate and LASD’s response is to impugn Deputy Johnson’s and Sheriff [Alex] Villanueva’s character,” the county stated. “This is improper.”
Vanessa Bryant’s attorney said they look forward to resolving the matter in court.
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