lawsuits

What to Know About Johnny Depp’s Upcoming Assault Trial

Johnny Depp Photo: ELIZABETH FRANTZ/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

What I would not give for a little break from reading the words “Johnny Depp” and “assault” and “trial” altogether in the same sentence. Unfortunately it appears the legal gods are impervious to my petitions for just a little reprieve, please, because here we are once again: Johnny Depp is heading back to court for an assault trial next month. Mercifully, this one will not be televised.

I know what you are thinking: Didn’t we just do this? Depp won a defamation suit against his ex-wife Amber Heard on June 1, a case that exhaustively relitigated their turbulent relationship but was actually about a few purportedly libelous lines in an op-ed Heard wrote for the Washington Post in 2018. This next lawsuit stems from an incident on the set of City of Lies that allegedly occurred in 2017: Location manager Gregg “Rocky” Brooks says a seemingly drunk Depp punched him twice after Brooks tried to shut down filming for the day. Depp denies this, and now, proceedings will begin on July 25 in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Here’s what to know about the case.

Who is Gregg Brooks?

A location manager who worked on City of Lies, which Rotten Tomatoes describes as a “compelling crime-thriller” about the investigation into the Notorious B.I.G.’s murder, in which Depp played an LAPD detective. The movie is based on the book LAByrinth, by Randall Sullivan, and was supposed to come out in September 2018, only the film’s distributor pulled it at the last minute. The distributor did not clarify the reason for the drop, but it did happen shortly after Brooks filed a lawsuit against Depp, the director, and Depp’s production company, complaining that Brooks had been fired after Depp attacked him on set.

What does Brooks say happened?

Brooks alleges that in April 2017, he told Depp filming had to shut down one night because — according to Us Weekly — their already extended city permits had run out. Brooks says Depp exploded at him when he delivered the news, shouting: “Who the fuck are you? You have no right to tell me what to do!” Brooks claims that Depp (whose breath allegedly “reeked of alcohol”) then punched him twice in the ribs, before bellowing at him: “I will give you $100,000 to punch me in the face right now.” He allegedly “continued to scream and berate him in front of a set full of people until Depp’s own bodyguards physically removed Depp from the scene.”

When Brooks returned to work a few days later, he says, a producer asked him to sign a document promising he would not sue. Brooks declined, and claims he was fired. He then sued for assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence, and damages. He says it has been difficult for him to find work since word of the incident got around, his lawyer Pat Harris telling Variety: “We obviously recognize that in the hierarchy of Hollywood, Johnny Depp is on top and the location managers are somewhere mid-level or toward the bottom. In any confrontation between the two of them, no matter who started it, no matter who’s responsible, Johnny Depp is going to come out on top and our guy is going to come out damaged.”

What does Depp say?

Depp’s attorneys have offered a few slightly different explanations on how the incident unfolded. In a 2018 statement to the Wrap, his lawyer, Adam Waldman, said: “Despite false media reports suggesting otherwise, Johnny Depp never touched the person suing him, as over a dozen witnesses present will attest. In a court filing we have generally denied all claims and we will fight these latest sham allegations.” (It is maybe worth noting that, in Depp’s last trial, the jury found a claim Waldman made about Heard to be defamatory.) In filings responding to Brooks’s lawsuit, Depp’s counsel claimed that the actor was “provoked” and acted in self-defense. An excerpt, via the Wrap:

The acts complained of by Plaintiff were provoked by Plaintiff’s unlawful and wrongful conduct in that Plaintiff willfully and maliciously acted out and conducted his activities in such a manner as to cause, Defendant Depp to fear for his safety, and according to Defendant Depp’s observations, Defendant Brad Furman [the director] for his safety.

Further, the filing blamed Brooks’s “own carelessness, recklessness and/or negligence” for the alleged confrontation. Taken altogether, it sounds like Depp’s team is saying that the actor didn’t punch Brooks, but also that Brooks brought his injuries on himself when he forced Depp to defend himself.

Were there any other crew members around who might be able to confirm or deny these conflicting accounts?

There were, and a few of them spoke with the Daily Beast. “They had a little moment, there weren’t punches, there wasn’t anything, just were in each others’ face for a second,” script supervisor Emma Danoff told the outlet, saying she was sitting next to Depp when the argument started. “We shot for maybe another hour-and-a-half after that, we went inside. We finished and the locations guy came up to Johnny and they hugged and it was all cute and that was it.” (According to Variety, Brooks said in a deposition that he and the actor “hugged it out” and posed for a photo together after the altercation.) Three other crew members reportedly confirmed Danoff’s statement, though Brooks’s lawyer “vigorously” refuted it. “[My] client was punched,” Arbella Azizian told the outlet. “He was punched twice in the rib cage and this was witnessed … I suggest you use a different source to get a more accurate assessment of what happened on set.”

Why won’t this trial be relentlessly broadcast for TikTok’s pleasure, like the last one was?

Whether or not to allow cameras in a courtroom comes down to the judge’s discretion, and according to Newsweek, the Law & Crime Network’s request to broadcast has been denied. In Depp’s last case, Penny Azcarate, chief judge of the Fairfax County circuit court, approved pool cameras for the proceedings, over objections from Heard’s team that livestreams would activate “anti-Amber networks.” Depp’s team approved of the cameras, but Heard’s attorney, Elaine Bredehoft, predicted his fans would use the footage to manufacture a different and damaging version of proceedings: “What they’ll do is take anything that’s unfavorable — a look,” Bredehoft said. “They’ll take out of context a statement, and play it over and over and over and over again.”

In the end, Azcarate approved the cameras, reasoning that reporters would swarm the courthouse and the courtroom, creating a chaotic atmosphere. Two things can come true at once, as it turns out.

When does the trial begin?

Depp will return to court on July 25. It’s presently unclear whether or not he will testify, though these proceedings will include some now-familiar names: Camille Vasquez, the breakout star of Depp’s defamation trial, will represent him a second time. The witness list reportedly includes a number of the actor’s employees and associates, who testified in his case against Heard: Depp’s sister, Christi Debrowski; his attorney, Waldman; his business manager, Ed White; and his bodyguard, Sean Bett, have all been called as witnesses, according to the New York Post. Despite the overlap, attorney Harris insists this is a totally different trial: “Brooks’s case is not about two Hollywood celebrities involved in a toxic relationship. It is about the assault of a hard-working film crew member by the star of the production,” Harris reportedly told the Sun. “Mr. Brooks looks forward to his day in court.” With fewer alpacas this time, let’s hope.

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What to Know About Johnny Depp’s Upcoming Assault Trial