A federal judge ruled earlier this month that their identities should be released. The officers allegedly shared photos of human remains from the helicopter crash that killed the basketball star, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others.
In September, Bryant’s widow Vanessa, 38, filed a lawsuit against the department, accusing deputies of taking and leaking photos of the crash, and of ‘showing off’ pictures of her husband and daughter’s bodies.
On Wednesday she shared the officer’s names to her Instagram page, along with several pages of the lawsuit. The officers are named as Joey Cruz, Rafael Mejia, Michael Russell and Raul Versales.
The lawsuit also names Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles County Fire Department and the sheriff’s department as defendants. Bryant is suing for negligence, invasion of privacy and a 14th Amendment violation.
Last month, she called for the four deputies involved to be named, claiming ‘these specific deputies need to be held accountable for their actions’.
U.S. District Court Judge John F. Walter sided with Vanessa in naming the officers, despite concerns raised by the sheriff’s department over the scrutiny and media attention the deputies will receive.
Vanessa had thanked the judge after the ruling for allowing for ‘accountability’.
Kobe, Gianna, and seven others were killed January 26 last year when the helicopter they were aboard crashed west of Los Angeles in the hills of Calabasas.
Vanessa Bryant (pictured) has named the four deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who allegedly shared photos of human remains from the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and their 13-year-old daughter Gianna
A LA sheriff’s office deputy trainee who received multiple photos of Kobe Bryant’s remains allegedly showed pictures of 13-year-old Gianna’s body and another of the basketball star (pictured above with Gigi) to his niece, as well as a woman and a Norwalk bartender
Vanessa took to Instagram (pictured) earlier this month to thank Judge Walter and her attorney Luis Li after it was ruled that the deputies’ names could be released in her civil rights lawsuit
The new suit claims: ‘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.’
Mejia is alleged to have stored images of the Bryants’ remains and shared them; Cruz is also said to have shared pictures as did Russell and Mejia, the suit claims.
Judge Walter ruled that the public has a vested interest in whether agencies responsible for investigating and adjudicating complaints of misconduct have acted properly and wisely, which outweighed the concerns expressed for the deputies.
‘Although the Court recognizes that this case has been the subject of public scrutiny and media attention and that the Deputy Defendants are legitimately concerned that they will encounter vitriol and social media attacks, such concerns, by themselves, are not sufficient to outweigh the public’s strong interest in access,’ the ruling said.
The NBA legend and his daughter Gianna, nicknamed Gigi, were on their way to her basketball tournament in Thousand Oaks, California when the helicopter crashed in Calabasas on January 29, 2020, sparking memorials and murals across the country.
Last year, Bryant filed a civil rights lawsuit against the department seeking damages for negligence and invasion of privacy, alleging county employees showed gruesome photos taken from the scene where Kobe and Gianna, as well as seven other people, died.
The suit claims that the deputies shared the photos among themselves and with others for no law enforcement purpose.
An internal affairs report from the Sheriff’s Department found that one of the deputies took 25 to 100 photos at the scene which spread quickly in the 48 hours after the crash.
One deputy and several firefighters were accused of taking pictures of the crash on personal phones, according to the lawsuit obtained by the L.A. Times.
However, it remains unclear if it was images taken by the deputy that were repeatedly shared, the outlet reported.
According to the lawsuit, a deputy trainee who received multiple photos of Bryant’s remains also showed pictures of a girl’s body and another of the basketball star to his niece, as well as a woman and a Norwalk bartender.
In February, Bryant’s lawyers filed an amended complaint in federal court that added four deputies and the Los Angeles County Fire Department to her civil rights lawsuit.
An internal affairs report from the L.A. Sheriff’s Department found that one of the deputies took 25 to 100 photos at the scene which spread quickly in the 48 hours after the crash
An NTSB official inspects the remains of a helicopter which crashed near Calabasa, California, on January 26, 2020, killing retired NBA star Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna
The deputies’ names, however, had been redacted in Bryant’s filing, pending the court’s decision on whether the complaint should be sealed.
Lawyers for the county hoped to keep the names of the deputies private over fears they could be targeted by hackers.
‘Not sealing the Deputy Defendants’ names increases the risk that hackers will seek out and try to gain access to the individual deputies’ devices to locate any photographs and publish them to the public. Plaintiff should want to [seal] for this same reason,’ the county’s lawyers wrote, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said that he had ordered the department to destroy the photos to prevent them from becoming public and has repeatedly said they did not publicly spread because of the action he took.
He also sponsored a bill – that was proposed after Kobe’s death and signed into law in September – which prohibits first responders from snapping unauthorized photos of dead people at scenes involving crimes or accidents.
Yet the judge ruled in Vanessa’s favor, claiming that Villanueva’s argument that the photos had been destroyed contradicted the concerns raised by the county that the social media or phones of the deputies in question could be hacked.
Kobe Bryant, right, is pictured with his daughter Gianna Bryant, who also died in the crash
Vanessa Bryant had called out the sheriff’s office for keeping the names of the deputies involved under wraps. Pictured, Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna (right), wife Vanessa and daughter Natalia before an NCAA college women’s basketball game in 2017
‘Defendants’ concern that hackers may attempt to seek out and gain access to the individual deputies’ devices to locate any photographs and publish them is totally inconsistent with their position that such photographs no longer exist,’ the judge said.
It is not clear if the names of the Los Angeles County Fire Department employees accused of misconduct will also be released.
Vanessa had previously called out the department in an Instagram post in February, claiming that anyone else facing similar allegations would not be protected in the same way.
‘The Sheriff’s Department wants to redact the names of the deputies that took and/or shared photos of my husband, daughter and other victims. They want their names to be exempt from the public,’ Bryant posted.
Bryant’s widow Vanessa, left with Kobe in 2013, said that she is focused on ‘finding the light in darkness’ as she detailed her attempts to push forward after her family’s huge loss
‘Anyone else facing allegations would be unprotected, named and released to the public.’
She continued: ‘Not all law enforcement is bad. These specific deputies need to be held accountable for their actions just like everyone else. #doublestandard.’
Vanessa took to Instagram again to thank Judge Walter and her attorney Luis Li.
She also quoted Li’s statement: ‘Transparency promotes accountability. We look forward to presenting Mrs. Bryant’s case in open court’.
In an interview with People, Vanessa said that she is focused on ‘finding the light in darkness’ as she detailed her attempts to push forward after her family’s huge loss.
She said the late NBA superstar and Gigi continue to ‘motivate me to keep going’ in the magazine’s Women Changing the World issue.
The 38-year-old widow of the Los Angeles Lakers legend expressed how she’s been trying to navigate heartache while trying to rebuild a life for herself and three daughters.
‘Lying in bed crying isn’t going to change the fact that my family will never be the same again,’ she said. ‘But getting out of bed and pushing forward is going to make the day better for my girls and for me. So that’s what I do.’
Vanessa said her devotion to her daughters Natalia, Bianka and Capri have been a saving grace. ‘My girls help me smile through the pain,’ she said. ‘They give me strength.’
Vanessa Bryant said she wants to honor her husband and daughter’s legacy by creating opportunities for young female athletes.
She has since taken charge of creative projects left unfinished at Granity Studios, the late NBA star´s multimedia company she now helms.
Vanessa recently relaunched Kobe’s charitable non-profit as Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation – a nod to the father-daughter duo – to help empower young girls and provide equal opportunities to underserved athletes.