LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — An amended lawsuit filed on behalf of Kobe Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, names four Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies accused of sharing photos of the Calabasas helicopter crash site where Kobe, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others were killed in January of 2020.
In a Wednesday Instagram post, Bryant posted a photo of the front page of the lawsuit that names Los Angeles County, the L.A. County Fire Department, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and four deputies — Joey Cruz, Rafael Mejia, Michael Russell and Raul Versales — as defendants in the case.
According to excerpts from the lawsuit posted to Bryant’s Instagram account, Bryant spoke with Sheriff Alex Villanueva on the day of the crash expressing concern that the crash site was “unprotected from photographers.” According to the suit, Villanueva assured her that the scene was being secured by deputies.
“According to the sheriff’s department’s subsequent investigatory report, 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,” the suit states.
The suit alleges that Mejia obtained multiple photographs of the Bryants’ remains, stored them on his personal cell phone and shared them with at least two individuals — including a female deputy at the scene and Cruz.
Cruz, according to the lawsuit, was a trainee deputy at the time and shared the photos with multiple people, including his niece, patrons at a bar, a bartender and Russell.
Russell, according to the lawsuit, shared the photos with a personal friend who was also a deputy, though at the Santa Clarita Station and not the Lost Hills Station, which was investigating the crash.
According to the lawsuit, Versales obtained the photos and saved them to his personal cell phone before sharing them with several other department personnel, including Mejia.
“The department has yet to deliver on Sheriff Villanueva’s promise of publicly reporting the results of the department’s investigation, but Mrs. Bryant obtained the department’s final investigative report via a motion to compel in January 2021,” the lawsuit states. “Substantively, 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.”
Earlier this month, a judge ruled the deputies’ names could be made public. Bryant is suing for negligence, invasion of privacy and a 14th Amendment violation.
Some former law enforcement officers said they were worried about the deputies’ safety after their names were made public.
“I think that this just opens the door for that to happen to these deputies,” Daron Wyatt, a retired Anaheim Police Department sergeant, said. “Again what they did was not right, but I question the ethics behind releasing their names in such an open forum.”
But legal analysts said that Bryant was well within her rights to share the publicly-available information in whatever manner she wanted.
“This is not a situation where Vanessa Bryant is pushing the boundaries of the law where you can say, ‘Sure, she’s doing something legal, but does it go against the spirit of the law,'” Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, said. “I don’t see that here, and so I think we should be careful about saying her behavior is unethical.”
In a Wednesday night tweet, Villanueva said his department would “refrain from trying this case in the media and will wait for the appropriate venue.”
We will refrain from trying this case in the media and will wait for the appropriate venue. Our hearts go out to all the families affected by this tragedy.
— Alex Villanueva (@LACoSheriff) March 18, 2021