Vanessa Bryant IDs deputies accused of sharing photos of Kobe Bryant crash site
Vanessa Bryant, the widow of basketball player Kobe Bryant, shared the names of the deputies accused of taking and sharing pictures of the crash site where Kobe Bryant, their daughter and several others died.
Deputies Joey Cruz, Rafael Mejia, Michael Russell and Raul Versales are named as defendants in the case filed in federal court in California. Other defendants include Los Angeles County, the sheriff and the fire department.
Bryant shared a series of screenshots that included the defendants’ names on Instagram on Wednesday.
“Within forty-eight hours, at least ten members of the Sheriff’s Department obtained and possessed photos of the victims’ remains on their personal cell phones despite having no legitimate governmental use for the photos,” the court document says.
The filing alleges that Mejia took photos of the crash even though he was not involved in the investigation and claims he sent them to a female deputy afterward. He told investigators that “curiosity got the best of [them],” the document states.
Cruz also allegedly took unauthorized photos of Kobe Bryant’s body and the crash and showed them to other officers and members of the public. The lawsuit alleges that Cruz showed them to a bartender who then reportedly bragged to others that he saw the pictures and described them to colleagues.
The lawsuit claims Cruz shared the photos with Russell, who allegedly then sent them to a friend. Russell’s friend was also an officer, but with the Santa Clarita station, who reportedly told investigators the pictures were focused on the remains of a child.
Versales also is accused of obtaining photos while at the crash site and sending them to other colleagues.
The sergeant who was second-in-command told investigators that despite photos being circulated, the incident was handled well, the document states.
“The sergeant added that he thought that the accident scene ‘was handled great’ by the Sheriff’s Department and remarked that ‘it’s just one person,’ presumably Cruz, who ‘screwed it up for everybody,’” the court document states.
A federal judge ruled on March 8 that the names could be released after the defendants fought to keep them private due to concerns that hackers might attempt to access their devices for the photos, even though they said the photos are now deleted.
Kobe Bryant and his daughter, along with seven other people, were killed in the helicopter crash in January 2020.
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