Vanessa Bryant has publicly identified four Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies accused of sharing explicit photos of the Calabasas helicopter crash that killed her husband, daughter and seven others.
Bryant released images of court documents on Instagram Wednesday, revealing the names of four deputies: Joey Cruz, Rafael Mejia, Michael Russell and Raul Versales. The four men are named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by the widow of legendary Laker Kobe Bryant, along with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, County of L.A. and L.A. County Fire Department.
A Sikorsky S-76 helicopter was carrying the victims to a basketball tournament at Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks on the morning of Jan. 26, 2020, when it crashed into a hillside in Calabasas. The nine victims on board included Kobe and Gianna Bryant; John and Keri Altobelli and their daughter, Allyssa; Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton; Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan.
According to the court documents, the photos were widely shared among law enforcement authorities who had no reason to possess them for any investigatory purpose. The litigation describes the circulation of graphic photos of the victims’ bodies as a form of “morbid gossip.”
Cruz, who had no role in the investigation of the crash, allegedly showed the explicit photos to his niece as well as a bartender and customers at a restaurant in Norwalk, according to court records.
“Photos of the remains quickly spread within the Sheriff’s Department as deputies transmitted them to one another via text message and Airdrop,” read the court documents shared by Vanessa Bryant.
The images were shared so “casually,” the lawsuit states, that Versales could not even name the deputy who shared them with him.
About four hours after Bryant posted the court documents, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva tweeted the following, without directly naming Bryant or anyone involved in the case: “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,” the tweet continued.
Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled Bryant could obtain the names of the four deputies after she filed a complaint to reveal their identities. She sued the Sheriff’s Department in September.