Los Angeles cops and deputies have a culture of keeping “ghoul books” with graphic photos of dead celebrities and other high-profile victims such as Kobe Bryant for their own kicks, a retired police officer testified Friday.
Police in the star-studded city often hold onto “personal souvenirs” of fatalities involving famous people — and share them with each other in locker rooms and other casual settings, retired Los Angeles Police Department special investigator Adam Bercovici testified.
“These death books are widely spread and well-known. Officers keep them as souvenirs and they have no investigative value,” he said.
Bercovici took the stand as an expert witness on the third day of the trial over Vanessa Bryant’s federal lawsuit against the county, and said he was shown a “ghoul book” featuring Nicole Brown Simpson’s nearly decapitated corpse while on the job.
“It was a random Polaroid and I said to myself, ‘That’s not supposed to be going around.’ I said, ‘That was not cool.’ It was very graphic,” he said, adding the problem is widespread among law enforcement in Southern California.
His comments came as the wife of an LA County firefighter testified that she saw a smoke eater showing colleagues photos taken from the helicopter crash that killed the NBA legend a few weeks after the tragedy on Jan. 26, 2020.
Luella Weireter — who is also related to Keri Altobelli, a victim who died in the same accident — testified that she saw Tony Imbrenda of the LA County Fire Department sharing the photos at an awards gala on Feb 15, 2020.
After she saw it, she said felt revolted and started crying.
“He had his phone in front of him and they were looking at his phone. When I did glance, I saw them staring at his phone,” she testified.
“I was just disgusted, shocked and was just trying to hold my composure but I was emotional.”
Luella said she ultimately reported the incident to the fire department roughly three weeks later, despite risks related to her husband working there.
“What [Imbrenda] did was wrong. Something had to be done … I didn’t want to see it happen again,” she explained.
Bercovici, who was paid $28,000 as a Plaintiffs’ expert, said only two entities should’ve been allowed to take pictures of the accident site— the National Transportation Safety Board and the county Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office.
“There was no reason for (deputies) to take the photos, and if they did that, the photos should become evidence and should be preserved,” Bercovici said.
He continued, “You need clear, specific policies … that applied to multiple situations. You have to have accountability when these policies are violated.”
Bercovici said he reviewed thousands of pages of reports in 40 hours and concluded the county Sheriff’s Department made zero effort to preserve the photographs that were shared by deputies and first responders. He added the phones also should’ve been secured for any internal investigations or the federal investigation related to the crash.
Bercovici said the deputies and first responders instead were told to wipe all traces of the pictures from their personal phones.
“You’re missing everything to conduct an investigation … in order to get to the truth of what happened,” Bercovici said.
In her lawsuit, Vanessa Bryant claims deputies and fire personnel shared photos of her late husband’s mangled corpse from a helicopter crash scene in January 2020. Her daughter Gianna, 13, also died in the crash.
US District Judge John Walter consolidated Bryant’s lawsuit with a similar claim filed by Orange County financial adviser Chris Chester, who lost his wife Sarah and their 13-year-old daughter, Payton, in the tragic accident.
Gianna Bryant and Payton were teammates in the Mamba Sports Academy basketball team that was coached by the hoops star.
Attorneys representing Los Angeles County wrote in a trial brief that there is no evidence that the images were shared publicly.
On Thursday, a bartender testified that a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy showed him photos of her late-NBA legend husband’s gory crash scene.