In 12 caption-less Instagram posts Wednesday night, Kobe Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, revealed the names of the four Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies who allegedly took or shared graphic photos of the site of the helicopter crash, which killed the basketball legend and their 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, as well as seven others in January 2020.
The posts show an amended complaint, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, which names deputies Joey Cruz, Rafael Mejia, Michael Russell, and Raul Versales as the defendants, as well as the Los Angeles County, its sheriff department and fire department. It claims negligence, invasion of privacy, and a violation of the 14th Amendment.
Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that Bryant could obtain the deputies’ names. Initially redacted, attorneys for the departments had wanted to keep their names and ranks sealed.
The lawsuit alleges that “deputies who responded to the crash scene used personal cell phones to take and share gratuitous photos of the dead children, parents and coaches.” According to the case, Sheriff Alex Villanueva initially assured Bryant of privacy when she expressed concerns just after the incident occurred.
The suit claims that one deputy took between 25 and 100 photos at the scene, which had “no conceivable investigatory purpose and were focused directly on the victims’ remains.”
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The suit calls the actions of the deputies, who spread the photos throughout the departments via texts and AirDrop, “morbid gossip.” It details each deputy’s role in sharing the photos with people who had no connection to the investigation.
Within two days of the crash, at least 10 members of the department had obtained photos, the lawsuit claims.
In one instance, the suit claims Cruz showed the photos to a patron and bartender at a bar, “using his fingers to zoom-in on his phone.” The bartender told investigators that Cruz showed him photos containing victims’ remains.
One of the patrons told investigators that he found the situation “very, very disturbing,” describing Cruz’s behavior as “very inappropriate.” He was so upset, he filed a complaint with the department shortly after.
In another instance, the suit claims Russell texted photos of the victims’ remains to a personal friend, who later indicated the photos showed the remains of a child.
The suit additionally alleges that several of the named officers made false statements regarding their possession of crash site photos during a prior department investigation.
“We will refrain from trying this case in the media and will wait for the appropriate venue,” Villanueva tweeted Wednesday night, appearing to refer to Bryant’s Instagram posts. “Our hearts go out to all the families affected by this tragedy.”
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