Vanessa Bryant, the widow of Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, revealed portions of her lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s and Fire departments in a series of Instagram posts on Wednesday.
The 12 posts, which she shared with her 14.4 million followers, name the officers who allegedly shared photos of the helicopter crash scene where her husband and 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, died.
According to the case, she shared her initial concern for the privacy of the crash site almost immediately with Sheriff Alex Villanueva. Despite assurances provided by Villanueva at the time, a subsequent investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department showed that one deputy took between 25 and 100 photos on his personal cell phone — including some focused solely on the victims’ remains.
Many of those photos, the suit alleges, were quickly shared through text message and the AirDrop feature on iPhones to other deputies within the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department who had no connection to the investigation.
Bryant highlighted the names of the officers — Joey Cruz, Rafael Mejia, Michael Russell and Raul Versales — with red markings on her initial post. Earlier this month, she won a case against the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to have the names of the four deputies released.
Villanueva didn’t specifically reference Bryant’s case in a Twitter post on Wednesday night, but said “we will refrain from trying this case in the media and will wait for the appropriate venue.”
Mejia is alleged to have stored photos from the crash site in his personal phone and shared them with others, unprompted, “for no reason other than morbid gossip,” the suit says.
Mejia also is alleged to have sent the photos to Cruz, a trainee deputy with the Sheriff’s Department, who shared the photos with Russell, showed them to a family member and also boastfully displayed them to patrons and the bartender at a sports bar in Norwalk, California, several days later.
One of the patrons at the bar, who heard the bartender describe the gory details of the photos shown to him by Cruz, emailed a complaint to the Sheriff’s Department later that night.
Russell is alleged to have saved the photos in an album on his personal cell phone and shared the photos with a friend who worked in a different police station with no involvement in the investigation.
Versales, a deputy with the Sheriff’s Department, is alleged to have obtained and shared photos from his personal cell phone on the day of the crash — including to Mejia — with individuals with no official purpose to view them.
The suit also alleges that several of the named officers made false statements about their possession of and knowledge about the crash photos during the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department investigation.
It has been nearly 14 months since Jan. 26, 2020, when Kobe Bryant, Gianna and seven others were killed when the helicopter they were occupying crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, California.