Who are the Kobe Bryant crash cops accused of leaking photos?

FOUR Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies are alleged to have shared photos from the site of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant.

Their names were revealed when Kobe’s widow Vanessa, 37, posted images of lawsuit documents she filed against Los Angeles County, the sheriff’s department, the county fire department, and the deputies.

Who are the Kobe Bryant crash cops accused of leaking photos?

Joey Cruz, Rafael Mejia, Michael Russell and Raul Versales have been named as defendants in the civil rights lawsuit filed by Vanessa Bryant stemming from the January 26, 2020 crash.

Their names were revealed when a Los Angeles federal judge rejected bid to by country attorneys to have the deputies’ names withheld to prevent them being the targets of hackers.

Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter and several others were traveling by helicopter in January last year to Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks, California for a basketball game when it crashed.

Raul Versales

The lawsuit alleges Versales obtained multiple photographs of the crash scene while stationed at a makeshift command post that was set up near the crash site, the LA Times reports.

He then shared them with members of the Sheriff’s Department, including Rafael Mejia and a detective.

Rafael Mejia

The lawsuit alleges Mejia obtained "multiple photographs of the Bryants' remains" taken by fire department personnel and and "stored them on his personal cell phone", according to NBC.

He then "walked 100 feet from his position at the makeshift command post to chat with a female deputy who was controlling traffic in and out of the Las Virgenes Water District".

"Mejia told the deputy that he had photos of the accident scene and, for no reason other than morbid gossip, proceeded to send the photos of the Bryants' remains to her personal cell phone,'' according to the lawsuit.

Mejia then allegedly transmitted the photos to Cruz, a trainee deputy at the time. 

Joey Cruz

It’s alleged that while Cruz was at his mother’s house he showed photos of the remains to his niece and made a crude remark before doing so.

Later that day while at the Baja California Bar and Grill in Norwalk, Cruz allegedly "boasted that he had worked at the scene of the accident where Kobe Bryant had died”.

“Cruz then showed photos of the Bryants' remains to a fellow bar patron and the restaurant's bartender, and he is seen on the bar's security camera zooming in and out of the images while displaying them to the bartender,'' according to the suit.

"One of the photos showed the body of a girl, and Cruz remarked that another showed the remains of Kobe Bryant,'' the suit states.

"Shortly after seeing the photos, the bartender 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 bartender “told a table of nearby customers specific characteristics" of Kobe Bryant's remains, it’s alleged.

But the patrons became disturbed enough that one filed an official complaint with the Sheriff's Department, the suit says.

Michael Russell

Cruz told fellow deputy Russell that he had photos of the crash scene while the pair were at the Lost Hills Sheriff's station on the evening of the crash, the LA Times reports.

"Russell asked to see the photos, and Cruz texted photos of the Bryants' remains to Russell's personal cell phone,'' according to the suit.

Russell saved the photos to an album on his personal cellphone so he didn’t have to keep going to his text messages to view them, the lawsuit alleges.

Two days after the crash, he shared them with a friend who was a deputy from the Santa Clarita station with whom he played video games nightly.

In text he said that one of the victims was Kobe Bryant, according to the lawsuit.

That friend told investigators that one of the images was of a child’s remains.

Elizabeth Gibbons, an attorney who has represented the deputies in an administrative proceeding about the photos, said they declined to comment.

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