Sport Basketball Vanessa Bryant names deputies accused of leaking photos from Kobe Bryant helicopter crash site

Vanessa Bryant names deputies accused of leaking photos from Kobe Bryant helicopter crash site

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Kobe Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, has revealed the names of four Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies she alleges shared graphic photos from the site of the helicopter crash that killed her husband, their daughter, Gianna, and seven others.

Ms Bryant posted the information via her Instagram account on Wednesday.

Her posts included images of portions of her lawsuit, which was amended to include the names of deputies Joey Cruz, Rafael Mejia, Michael Russell and Raul Versales.

Ms Bryant had filed an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against Los Angeles County and the sheriff’s department back in September, but names of the deputies had been redacted.

Federal judge US District Court Judge John F Walter last week ruled that the accused deputies “are legitimately concerned that they will encounter vitriol and social media attacks,” but that “such concerns, by themselves, are not sufficient to outweigh the public’s strong interest in access.”

The ruling opened the door for Ms Bryant to name the accused.

The suit alleges that Mr Cruz shared photos of Kobe Bryant’s body with a bartender and the others passed around “gratuitous photos of the dead children, parents, and coaches”.

None of the deputies were directly involved in the investigation of the crash or had any legitimate purpose in taking or passing around the grisly photos, the suit contends.

“We will refrain from trying this case in the media and will wait for the appropriate venue,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva tweeted.

“Our hearts go out to all the families affected by this tragedy.”

Kobe Bryant and the others were killed on January 26, 2020, when the helicopter they were travelling in crashed west of Los Angeles, in the hills of Calabasas.

The Los Angeles Times later reported that a departmental internal investigation found deputies shared photos of victims’ remains.

Ms Bryant sued the county and the Sheriff’s Department, seeking damages for negligence and invasion of privacy.

In the lawsuit, Ms Bryant alleges that according to a Sheriff’s Department investigatory report, one deputy took 25 to 100 photos on his personal cell phone that had no value to the investigation. The suit alleges that at least eight deputies snapped cellphone photos.

The suit says that on the day of the crash Mr Mejia, who was assigned to the crash site, obtained photos from fire department personnel, then walked over to chat with a female deputy – who wasn’t involved in the investigation – and “for no reason other than morbid gossip”, sent them to her cellphone.

The suit contends that two days after the crash, Mr Cruz “boasted” to a bartender at a Southern California bar and grill that he’d responded to the scene and showed photos the trainee deputy had been sent by Mr Mejia. They included bodies of a girl and of Kobe Bryant, the suit alleges.

The bartender told a table of nearby customers “specific characteristics” of Bryant’s remains, and the patrons became disturbed enough that one filed an official complaint with the Sheriff’s Department, the suit says.

According to the suit, Mr Cruz also showed the photos to his niece and another bar patron, and texted images to Mr Russell, who allegedly shared them with a friend.

Kobe Bryant died when his helicopter crashed in LA in January 2020. Photo: Reuters

The suit alleges that within two days, at least 10 Sheriff’s Department members had seen the photos and they became “the subject of gossip” within the department.

The lawsuit says that the Sheriff’s Department hasn’t released results of its internal investigation but Ms Bryant obtained the final report through the courts in January.

The report “reveals that the Sheriff’s Department has failed to take basic steps to ensure all copies of the improper photos are tracked down and sequestered,” the suit alleges.

Mr Mejia allegedly told investigators that “curiosity got the best of [them]” and that such curiosity was “in [their] nature” as deputies, the civil complaint said.

Ron Hernandez, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, declined to say if the deputies named by Ms Bryant have been disciplined, are on modified duty or even if they’re still employed by the department.

“It is our understanding that this an ongoing investigation,” Mr Hernandez told NBC News.

-with agencies