Court documents: 2 firefighters could be fired for sharing Kobe Bryant crash scene photos

By STEFANIE DAZIO and BRIAN MELLEY

LOS ANGELES — Two Los Angeles County firefighters could be fired and a third suspended after first responders took and shared graphic photos from the site of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his teenage daughter and seven others, court documents say.

The court documents were filed Monday as part of widow Vanessa Bryant’s federal lawsuit against Los Angeles County that alleges invasion of privacy. The filings propose that a Nov. 16 trial be postponed five months to April 27, 2022, because of a large amount of material that attorneys need to review.

Kobe Bryant and the others were killed Jan. 26, 2020, when the helicopter they were aboard crashed west of Los Angeles. Federal safety officials blamed pilot error for the wreck that killed the basketball star, whom Michael Jordan will present for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday.

An internal investigation by the Los Angeles County Fire Department found that two firefighters — whose names were not disclosed in the court filings — had taken photos of the bodies in the helicopter wreckage that “served no business necessity,” Vanessa Bryant’s attorneys wrote, and “only served to appeal to baser instincts and desires for what amounted to visual gossip.”

They then sent the photos to a third firefighter — a media relations officer who went to the scene and later shared the images with off-duty firefighters and their wives and girlfriends while socializing at an awards ceremony at a Hilton hotel the month after the crash.

The two firefighters — one of whom was at the site solely to monitor safety procedures — were sent “intention to discharge” letters last December. The third firefighter received an “intention to suspend” letter. The employment status of all three was not immediately clear Wednesday.

Los Angeles County attorneys have argued that there is no legal basis for Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit because the photos were not publicly disseminated. She can’t sue for a “hypothetical harm” that they may be shared publicly, the county said in filings.

Capt. Ron Haralson, a spokesperson for the county Fire Department, declined to comment, citing the lawsuit.

Several Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies — none of whom were directly involved in the investigation of the crash — are also included in the lawsuit because they are accused of taking or passing around the grisly photos with family, friends and, in one case, a bar patron and a bartender who later complained to the sheriff’s department.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva condemned the deputies’ behavior and, in a move that has since been heavily criticized, ordered them to delete the photos. The captain of the Malibu-Lost Hills sheriff’s station, which oversees the area where the crash occurred, pushed back on the decision but was overruled.

The Sheriff’s Department said Wednesday that “a full administrative investigation was conducted and appropriate administrative action was taken.” But it couldn’t provide details about discipline involving the deputies because of a pending lawsuit and state employment law that bars disclosing “specific administrative actions.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom last year signed a law that makes it a crime for first responders to take unauthorized photos of deceased people at the scene of an accident or crime.

The firefighters’ punishment was first reported by KNBC-TV. Representatives from the union that represents firefighters did not immediately respond to The Associated Press’ request for comment Wednesday.

The firefighter who received the photos and shared them with others was not named in court documents, but the Los Angeles Times has reported that Capt. Tony Imbrenda filed a retaliation lawsuit in November. Imbrenda alleged he was demoted for refusing to hand over his personal cellphone during the investigation into the photos, which he said was a violation of the Firefighter Bill of Rights.

Imbrenda did, however, hand over his department cellphone and laptop, the Times reported. His lawsuit says he received photos from people working at the crash site “as is common practice on all major incidents.”

He took his own photos the next day, the Times reported, but denied taking photos of the victims’ bodies and said he did not take photos with his personal cellphone.

Imbrenda did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

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Man pleads guilty in series of Southern California Trader Joe’s robberies

LOS ANGELES — A Huntington Park man pleaded guilty Wednesday to carrying out more than a dozen robberies of Trader Joe’s stores throughout Southern California during a four-month crime spree last year.

Gregory Johnson, 43, admitted federal counts of interference of commerce by robbery and using a firearm in a crime of violence, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Johnson faces between seven years and life in federal prison, with sentencing set for Aug. 2.

The defendant admitted that from last Aug. 28 to Dec. 4, he robbed Trader Joe’s stores in Eagle Rock, Sherman Oaks, Chatsworth, Pasadena, Culver City, Rancho Palos Verdes, Agoura Hills, Brea, Santa Ana, Tustin and Chino Hills, and attempted to rob locations in Simi Valley and Corona.

During many of the robberies, Johnson brandished a handgun. On two occasions, he robbed stores in Rancho Palos Verdes and Brea, and returned weeks later to rob them again.

Johnson and his son, Gregory E. Johnson, were arrested following the Chino Hills robbery on Dec. 4, after a witness gave authorities a description of their getaway vehicle and license plate.

The younger Johnson, 20 at the time he was charged in December, pleaded guilty to participating in the Chino Hills and Chatsworth robberies. He faces up to 40 years in prison when he’s sentenced July 12 in downtown Los Angeles.

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Two cars on 91 Freeway in Corona and Riverside have windows shot out Tuesday evening

Just a day after drivers of three cars reported having their windows shot out on the 91 Freeway near Corona, two more cars travelling on the same freeway in Corona and Riverside had their windows shot out on Tuesday evening, May 11, the California Highway Patrol said.

At about 5:50 p.m., a white GMC Safari van was travelling east on the 91, east of Lincoln Avenue in Corona, when the van’s middle left side window was shattered. Responding officers determined the weapon used was a pellet or BB gun based on the damage, the CHP said.

Just about 10 minutes after the first incident, a white Jeep Wrangler was heading east on the 91 Freeway, east of Tyler Street in Riverside, when the driver reported hearing a pop, followed by their left side third row window shattering, the CHP said.

No injuries were reported in either incident and no suspect information was obtained in either incident, the CHP said.

Just late Sunday evening, May 9, into the early morning hours of Monday, drivers of four cars in Corona and Riverside reported having their windows shot out by what the CHP believe to be pellets or BBs. Officer Juan Quintero, spokesman for the CHP’s Riverside Office, said Tuesday’s incidents were “a little less definitive” as to whether they were related to those the day prior on the freeway.

“We’ve got to do more follow up before we can link (the incidents),” Quintero said. “We did an area search (on Tuesday), both on the freeway and off the freeway and we didn’t find anything.”

The CHP was already probing various other similar freeway incidents in previous months.

The windows of two drivers were reported being shattered while on the 91 near Corona on May 6 near Main Street and in Riverside near Pierce Street. One was believed to be the result of a BB gun while the other was believed to stem from a “big object,” according to Quintero.

The CHP’s Westminster office reported “approximately five” similar incidents in their area between April 19 and May 4.

Any witnesses who may have observed the incidents are encouraged to call the CHP at 951-637-8000.

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12 indicted in alleged Southern California ‘green’ loan and mortgage fraud scheme

LOS ANGELES — A dozen people have been indicted in connection with an alleged mortgage fraud and “green” loan scheme that operated throughout Southern California and resulted in losses of about $15 million, the California Attorney General’s Office announced Wednesday.

The 133-count grand jury indictment, handed up April 26, alleges that the crimes occurred in Los Angeles, Riverside and Ventura counties.

The indictment charges the defendants with a variety of counts, including conspiracy, mortgage fraud, grand theft, identity theft, forgery, filing a false or forged document and money laundering.

The defendants allegedly exploited the Yrgene Energy Fund and Renew Funding, companies that provide funding to licensed contractors for energy- efficient home improvements for homeowners, and used false identities to get mortgage loans from conventional banks and hard money lenders, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

“The allegations against these defendants charge a pattern of disregard for the law and willingness to go as far as stealing the identities of the deceased just to further their scheme,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement announcing the charges. “Our office will seek to hold these defendants accountable for their alleged actions.”

Those named in the indictment are: Tamara Dadyan, 39, Richard Ayvazyan, 42, Artur Ayvazyan, 41, Grigor Tatoian, 50, Andranik Petrosyan, 46, Arshak Bartoumian, 48, Artashes Martirosyan, 43, Lilit Malyan, 39, Lubia Carrillo, 41, Rosa Zarate, 49, Estephanie Reynoso, 31, and Vanessa Bell, 60.

Eleven of the defendants have pleaded not guilty, with Malyan due back in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom for arraignment May 18.

The case stemmed from a multi-year investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department, with assistance from the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General.

The attorney general lauded the two agencies for “their work to put an end to an extensive, six-year fraud scheme that resulted in the theft of an estimated $15 million.”

“If you were a victim or have information please call 213-486-6979,” said a tweet from LAPD Capt. Lillian Carranza.

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Driver charged with gross vehicular manslaughter in Santa Ana crash that killed a passenger in his car

SANTA ANA — A 22-year-old man was charged Wednesday with gross vehicular manslaughter for a collision in Santa Ana a year and a half ago that killed a passenger in his vehicle.

Manuel Jesus Galindo was behind the wheel of a 2013 Hyundai Sonata that was southbound on Newhope Street about 10:50 a.m. on Oct. 12, 2019, when the sedan collided with another car and slammed into a street pole at Westminster Boulevard, said Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.

The brunt of the impact was on the passenger side of the car, where 20-year-old Kobe Kidwell of Santa Ana was sitting, Bertagna said. Kidwell died of his injuries.

Galindo sustained serious injuries in the crash, and two women in the back seat of his car also were injured and taken to an area hospital, Bertagna said.

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San Bernardino County honors L.A. County Sheriff’s first responders for efforts in search for rescuer

LOS ANGELES — Five first responders with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were presented with a Medal of Valor from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday for their efforts in the search and recovery operation of an SBSD member who died while searching for a missing hiker from Irvine on Mount Baldy in December 2019.

Undersheriff Dicus, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department presents the Medal of Valor to #LASD Air Rescue 5 crew members for daring snow/ice rescue/recovery of two San Bernardino SD SAR members during inclement weather at high altitude on Mt Baldy. Saving lives priority 1. pic.twitter.com/roWbW7eZfy

— SEB (@SEBLASD) April 27, 2021

 

Undersheriff Shannon Dicus of the SBSD presented the medals to Los Angeles County Air Rescue 5 Crew members Deputies Todd Kocisko, Scott Helbing, Steve Pratt and Jennifer Shepard and Sgt. Dave Carver for their bravery during the operation.

The five crew members were searching for SBSD Search and Rescue member Timothy Staples. The 32-year-old Staples was one of 126 people across 23 teams searching for Sreenivas “Sree” Mokkapati, who was reported missing on Dec. 8, 2019, after becoming separated from his group while ascending Mount Baldy.

Staples’ partner had alerted the Sheriff’s Department that he had become separated from Staples.

“Despite inclement weather conditions and treacherous terrain, members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Air Rescue 5 helicopter crew located Staples in an area of ice and snow,” the LASD said. “He was unresponsive, and a crew member lowered to Staples determined he was dead.

“Even though the operation turned into a recovery, the crew’s efforts still demonstrate the dangerous working conditions search and rescue personnel face every day.”

Staples was a teacher at Damien High School in La Verne, an all-male Catholic school. Mokkapati’s remains were eventually recovered and identified in June 2020.

Our most sincere gratitude & appreciation to @sbcountysheriff for presenting @SEBLASD Air Rescue 5 Crew with the Medal of Valor. The hope, the mission, the priority has always been to Save Lives. Please accept our deepest thanks. pic.twitter.com/7gNebLgiyq

— LA County Sheriffs (@LASDHQ) April 27, 2021

“In my opinion, the LASD has one of the best search and rescue programs in the nation, and the flight deputies and crew of Air 5 are the cream of the crop,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who attended Tuesday’s ceremony in Los Angeles.

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Huntington Beach investigators seek help finding suspect in fatal hit-and-run

HUNTINGTON BEACH — Huntington Beach police Tuesday asked for the public’s help tracking down a suspect in a fatal hit-and-run collision in January.

Police released more details about the vehicle involved in the collision that killed 29-year-old pedestrian Jacob Andrew Conroy of Midway City on Jan. 24.

Police are looking for a full-sized SUV with dark tinted windows similar to a newer-model Chevrolet Tahoe or Cadillac Escalade, according to Lt. Brian Smith of the Huntington Beach Police Department.

The SUV was going southbound on Goldenwest Street north of Oxford Drive when it struck Conroy, who was crossing outside of a crosswalk, Smith said. The driver fled the scene and Conroy was pronounced dead at the scene, Smith added.

A second vehicle struck Conroy, but that driver stopped and cooperated with investigators.

The suspect vehicle is believed to have sustained moderate front-end collision damage, Smith said.

Anyone with information was asked to contact investigators at 714-536- 5231 or 536-5670. Orange County Crime Stoppers will accept anonymous tips at 855-TIP-OCCS.

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Seal Beach man loses $140,000 in foreign lottery scam

SEAL BEACH — Authorities on Tuesday sought information about a lottery scam that defrauded a Seal Beach man out of about $140,000.

Seal Beach Police Department officers responded Friday to a call of theft by false pretenses, said the department’s Lt. Nick Nicholas.

The man who made the call told officers he received a letter in 2020 postmarked from Portugal that claimed he had won the lottery in Spain, Nicholas said.

The letter, which contained logos and images similar to those used by the California Lottery, claimed the man had to pay “upfront tax money” to claim his winnings.

The man sent money to the suspects using the United States Postal Service, Nicholas said. However, the suspects demanded additional payment from the man to “secure the lottery winnings.”

The man sent cashier’s checks to multiple individuals in the United States and Portugal over the course of several months. He discovered he was the victim of a scam after he sent about $140,000 and received nothing in return.

The Seal Beach Police Department, in cooperation with the FBI and international officials, is investigating the scam in an attempt to identify the suspects.

Anyone with information on the incident can contact Seal Beach Police Department Detective Jon Ainley at 562-799-4100, ext. 1113 or jainleysealbeachca.gov

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Father, teenage son stabbed in apparent ‘targeted attack’ in Placentia apartment

A father and his teenage son were the victims of an early Sunday morning stabbing in their Placentia apartment after two men allegedly broke in, police said.

At about 3:37 a.m., police responded to an unknown call at an apartment at 140 W. Orangethorpe Ave., where a 34-year-old father and his 14-year-old son were found stabbed, the Placentia Police Department said. Both were transported to a local trauma center and were expected to survive.

The attackers were described as two men in their 30s dressed in dark clothing who allegedly gained access into the apartment by breaking the front window,  police said. They then attacked the father, who was in the living room, and the son tried to intervene when he was stabbed by one of the suspects, according to police.

The incident appears to be a targeted attack against the father and there were no public safety concerns, police said in a news release.

Anyone with information related to the incident was encouraged to call detectives at 714-993-8146 or by email at jjones@placentia.org

Anonymous tips can also be submitted to Orange County Crime Stoppers at (855) TIP-OCCS or on their website http://occrimestoppers.org

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Motorcyclist killed in crash on Ortega Highway near Lake Elsinore

LAKE ELSINORE — A motorcyclist was fatally struck by a car Saturday on Ortega Highway (Highway 74) near Lake Elsinore.

The crash was reported at 5:15 p.m. just east of Lookout Roadhouse, according to the California Highway Patrol.

A witness told the CHP a small black sedan struck the motorcycle, and that the rider hit the ground. A witness also said a group of other motorcyclists was threatening the sedan’s driver.

The 74 was temporarily shut down in both directions for the investigation, the CHP said.

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