Two L.A. Police Officers Face Demand to Testify at Johnny Depp's U.K. Trial

U.K. courts are "operating normally," and as the actor's libel trial against a news publisher begins next week, the proceeding could see streamed testimony via a transatlantic video link.
John Phillips/Getty Images for BFI

On May 21, 2016, two LAPD officers responded to a call from dispatch about a report of domestic disturbance at the Eastern Columbia penthouse in downtown Los Angeles. They went to investigate. According to a deposition later given by Officer Tyler Hadden, the woman at the residence (along with a man present) was uncooperative. Nevertheless, he and his partner Melissa Saenz didn't see injuries, and woman didn't want medical attention nor wish to file a report. So, the officer gave the woman his card and departed. Amazingly, it took a week and a half before Hadden learned this involved actor Johnny Depp. 

Now, almost four years later, Hadden and Saenz are facing a legal demand to testify at a trial beginning next week in London because of their brief interaction with Depp and ex-wife Amber Heard. So is Laura Divenere, a friend of Heard's who saw the actress in the days after the incident. Throughout the world, commerce is slowing because of the spread of the novel coronavirus. Many countries including the United States are now imposing travel restrictions, and many Americans are scrambling to return home. Fortunately for the two LAPD officers, they won't have to go the other way, to a place where politicians are controversially discussing a "herd immunity" plan, but if an American judge so orders, they nevertheless could have a late March date at the Beverly Hills Bar Association for streamed testimony via a transatlantic video link.

Depp is suing News Group Newspapers, the publisher of The Sun, over a 2018 story that cast him as a "wife beater." This libel trial is scheduled to begin March 23, and unlike some countries where "social distancing" is changing court procedures, the U.K. isn't doing much canceling. In fact, Justice Minister Chris Philp tweeted Monday night, "To confirm that Courts will be operating normally tomorrow. Of course people who need to self-isolate as per the medical advice should do so. But for those not in isolation, Justice will continue and Jurors should attend Court tomorrow as per their Summons."

As such, News Group continues to prepare to defend the alleged truth of its 2018 article at the quickly advancing trial.

On Monday, in California federal court, the U.K. publisher filed an application for an order compelling the testimony of both LAPD officers, plus Divenere, who according to the latest court papers, has offered conflicting accounts of Heard's condition after that May 21 event.

According to a declaration by Jeffrey Smele, one of the news publisher's attorneys, Depp has given notice that he intends to rely on the two officers' depositions given as part of divorce proceedings between Depp and Heard. Smele says he can cross-examine the officers, but he's in need of a California federal judge's order. And he wants them to appear for trial — even if they are remote and their testimony is streamed.

"To take further depositions from Officers Saenz and Hadden would not be as effective because deposition testimony which is not directly ordered by the English court is regarded as hearsay under English law and is unlikely to be given the same weight as live evidence at trial," states Smele in a declaration (read in full here).

As for Divenere, she apparently gave a declaration as part of Depp's separate defamation suit against Heard in Virginia. In the declaration, she states, "I have never seen Ms. Heard with any signs of physical abuse or injury, including redness, swelling, cuts, bruising or damage of any kind. I never saw Amber injured in any way, although I am now aware that she has made many different abuse claims."

There doesn't seem to be any indication that Divenere's declaration has actually been filed in Virginia, but it has popped up on a celebrity news website. Smele asserts the declaration was leaked by Depp's attorneys to denigrate Heard. Smele adds that Depp now intends to use Divenere's declaration in the U.K. trial.

"Petitioners are particularly keen to cross-examine Ms. Divenere because they understand that Ms. Divenere was pressured into signing the Divenere Declaration and that, accordingly, it is not a true and accurate account," continues Smele.

Among the exhibits filed Monday are text messages from Depp attorney Adam Waldman to Divenere along with a transcript of an audio recording between Divenere and Heard.

Says Smele, "In the conversation, Ms. Divenere apologizes to Ms. Heard for making the Declaration, explains that Mr. Waldman had pressured her into doing it, and even asks Ms. Heard to contact her attorneys to 'get me to do a declaration too and question me so that I can say something in your favor.' In this audio recording Ms. Divenere gives a completely different account to the one set out in the Divenere Declaration. For example, she says that in the days following May 21, 2016, she did see Ms. Heard’s face looking 'all swollen and red and she [Ms. Heard] had been crying'...."

Reached for comment, Waldman responded that the news publisher's lawyer was "desperate" and says he's gotten confirmation from Divinere's attorney that her declaration was "true and correct." He also says he's investigating further legal options with respect to the recording and any involvement by The Sun

The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to Divinere's attorney.

Update Wed 3/18 10 am PST: The California judge has granted an order compelling the three to appear on March 27 and provide trial testimony via a satellite link. That noted, according to Law360, High Court Judge Andrew Nicol is considering a delay of the trial amid word that one of Depp's barristers is in self-isolation due to coronavirus and the difficulty of handling all the other witnesses who will give evidence over video.  “There’s also the issue of if we were to start and illness struck one or more participants halfway through, what would we do? Even if you haven’t raised the question, I was going to raise it,” said Judge Nicol.