This is Not to The Way to Show Respect For The Dead!

Published March 19th, 2021 - 07:06 GMT
Vanessa Bryant names four LA County sheriff's deputies accused of sharing Kobe Bryant crash photos
Kobe Bryant, Vanessa Bryant, Gianna Maria Onore Bryant and Natalia Diamante Bryant at the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Sports Awards 2016 held at the Pauley Pavilion in Westwood, USA on July 14, 2016. (Shutterstock/ File Photo)
Highlights
On Wednesday Vanessa shared the officer's names who shared crash photos to her Instagram page.

Vanessa Bryant on Wednesday named the four LA County sheriff's deputies accused of sharing graphic Kobe Bryant crash photos. 

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, squared in red, 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. 

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. 

Cruz is accused of sharing the pictures with a bartender two days after the crash and to his niece. He is seen on the bar security cameras zooming in and out of the images, the suit alleges. 

Russell is accused of sharing them with a person he 'plays video games with nightly'. 

'No fewer than eight sheriff's deputies were at the scene snapping cellphone photos of the dead children, parents and coaches,' the lawsuit claims. 

'As the department would later admit, there was no investigative purpose for deputies to take pictures at the crash site. Rather, the deputies took photos for their own personal purposes.' 

Judge Walter had 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. 

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.

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. 

'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. 

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.

'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.

 


© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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