Lawsuit says deputies shared grisly Kobe Bryant photos

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Kobe Bryant’s widow has posted 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.

Vanessa Bryant’s Instagram posts include images of portions of her lawsuit, which was amended to include the names of deputies Joey Cruz, Rafael Mejia, Michael Russell and Raul Versales.

The suit alleges Mr Cruz shared photos of Kobe Bryant’s body with a bartender and that the other named deputies 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.

Kobe Bryant Crash Photos
Investigators work at the scene of the helicopter crash in January, 2020 (Mark J Terrill/AP)

Kobe Bryant, the former basketball star, and the eight other people with him were killed on January 26 last year when the helicopter they were aboard crashed west of Los Angeles in the hills of Calabasas.

The Los Angeles Times later reported a departmental internal investigation found deputies shared photos of victims’ remains. Vanessa Bryant sued the county and the Sheriff’s Department, seeking damages for negligence and invasion of privacy.

A federal judge last week rejected a bid to keep the deputies’ names under seal, allowing Ms Bryant to add them and details from the internal affairs investigation to the lawsuit.

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 was not involved in the investigation — and “for no reason other than morbid gossip” sent them to her phone.

The suit contends that two days after the crash, Mr Cruz “boasted” to a bartender at a Southern California bar and grill that he had 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 90th Academy Awards – Vanity Fair Party – Los Angeles
Kobe Bryant and Vanessa Bryant at an awards ceremony. The former LA Lakers star was 41 at the time of his death (PA Archive)

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.

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 the Sheriff’s Department has not released results of its internal investigation but Vanessa 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.

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