In a series of Instagram posts on Wednesday, March 17, Vanessa Bryant shared her legal complaint against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and revealed the names of four deputies who allegedly took and/or shared horrific and graphic photos of the helicopter crash that killed her husband, NBA legend Kobe Bryant, their daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
Vanessa does not caption the post, but in one of the screenshots she circled those listed as defendants in red. The named deputies include Joey Cruz, Rafael Mejia, Michael Russell and Raul Versales, in addition to Los Angeles County, its sheriff and fire departments. The lawsuit seeks damages, claiming negligence and invasion of privacy.
According to the documents, Vanessa allegedly spoke with LASD Sheriff Alex Villanueva on the morning of the crash and requested that the scene be secured to maintain privacy. Her legal counsel claimed her requests fell upon deaf ears, as “sheriff deputies who responded to the crash used personal cell phones to take gratuitous photos of the dead children, parents, and coaches,” the complaint read. An 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’ dead bodies.
Many of the photos, the suit alleges, were “quickly spread within the Sheriff’s Department” via “text message and AirDrop,” the filing read, adding that “within forty-eight hours, at least ten member of the Sheriff’s Department obtained photos of the victims’ remains,” including some who had no connection to the case.
Of the four men listed in the filing, the complaints are as followed. Mejia, a deputy at the LASD who responded to the scene of the crash “obtained multiple photographs of Bryants’ remains and stored them on his personal cell phone,” and allegedly sent the photos to “at least two individuals without any legitimate governmental purpose,” including Cruz, a trainee.
Cruz, in turn, allegedly sent the photos to Russell, shared them with family members, including his niece, and it was claimed that he bragged about having them to a bartender at a sports bar in Norwalk, Calif., several days later. One of the patrons at the bar who overheard Cruz allegedly boasting in gory details about the photos emailed a complaint to the Sheriff’s Department.
After Russell obtained the photos from Cruz, he apparently shared them with a sheriff deputy from another station who had zero involvement in the case and texted the pictures to his friend's personal cell phone.
Versales, Vanessa claimed in the legal filing, obtained multiple photos from the crash site and shared them with Mejia and another detective. The complaint says that long after Versales learned the victims included Kobe and Gianna Bryant he shared the photos “without any legitimate governmental purpose.”
The suit also alleges that several of the named officers made false statements about their possession of and/or knowledge of the crash photos while the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department was investigating the shocking claims of the existence of such pictures.
Vanessa’s Instagram posts came just a week after a judge dismissed efforts by the LASD to keep the deputies’ names sealed in the lawsuit. It has been nearly 14 months since Jan. 26, 2020, when Kobe Bryant, Gianna and seven others were killed when their helicopter crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, Calif.