Vanessa Bryant Names the Officers She Says Shared Images of Helicopter Crash for 'Morbid Gossip'

Vanessa Bryant Names the Officers She Says Shared Images of Helicopter Crash for 'Morbid Gossip'
Photo:Kevork Djansezian (Getty Images)

Vanessa Bryant has named the four Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies at the center of a lawsuit she filed in September. Bryant alleges that, combined, the officers took dozens of photos—some featuring her husband’s and daughter’s remains—when they reported to the scene of last year’s helicopter crash and sent them to multiple people who weren’t involved with the case.

On Wednesday, Bryant blanketed her Instagram grid with scans of the court document for the suit, which seeks damages from the sheriff’s department for “negligence, invasion of privacy, and a 14th Amendment violation,” according to Vanity Fair. The very first post includes the officers’ names—Rafael Mejia, Joey Cruz, Michael Russell, and Raul Versales—which Bryant was initially barred from making public. But earlier this month, in a win for Bryant, a judge ruled that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department “failed to demonstrate compelling reasons” for withholding their identities.

The suit cites an investigation from the sheriff’s department, which found that “one deputy in particular took between 25 and 100 photos of the crash scene on his personal cell phone, many of which had no conceivable investigatory purpose and were focused directly on the victims’ remains.” (An independent investigation from the Los Angeles Times yielded some of the same findings last February.)

These photos were quickly circulated, according to the suit: Mejia allegedly shared the photos he took with at least two people, in addition to sending them to Cruz and another deputy who wasn’t participating in the helicopter crash investigation for “morbid gossip.” Cruz is said to have then shared those same photos with multiple people, including with Russell, who allegedly shared them with at least four people. Among them was a bartender at the bar he was patronizing, who “loudly boasted to restaurant employees and patrons that he had just seen a photo of Kobe Bryant’s body and described the image in graphic detail,” the suit says.

In the court filing, Bryant blames the department for “fail[ing] to take basic steps to ensure all copies of the improper photos [were] tracked down and sequestered.”

Bryant’s lawyer sees the release of the deputies’ names as the first step toward justice for her: “Transparency promotes accountability,” Luis Li told the LA Times following the decision. “We look forward to presenting Mrs. Bryant’s case in open court.”

Correction 3/23/21: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the Los Angeles Police Department as the agency named in Bryant’s lawsuit. Jezebel regrets the error.

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