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Vanessa Bryant wins legal battle against L.A. County Sheriff’s Department

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Picture courtesy of NBC News

On Mar. 17, 2021, Vanessa Bryant wins a legal battle in her case against the L.A. Sheriff’s Department to release names of the deputies who leaked photos of the tragic helicopter crash.

In an Instagram post, Bryant posted the front page of the lawsuit, which 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 the excerpts from the lawsuit posted, Bryant spoke with Sheriff Alex Villanueva at the Lost Hills Station, expressing her concerns that the crash site was “unprotected from photographers.” Sheriff Villanueva assured Bryant that his deputies were securing the scene. 

However, the deputies who responded to the crash scene used their personal cell phones to take and share photos of Bryant’s deceased husband and child along with the seven others involved in the crash. 

Mejia responded to the general proximity of the crash stationing himself at a command post where he “obtained multiple photographs of the Bryants’ remains and stored them on his personal cell phone.” Shortly after, he “shared them with at least two individuals without any legitimate governmental purpose,” according to the lawsuit. 

Once Mejia and others learned the crash included Kobe and Gianna Bryant, Mejia proceeded to walk 100 feet from his station to converse with a female deputy about the photos and sent them to her personal cell phone. 

Cruz, a trainee deputy at the time, received photos from Mejia while posted at the hillside base during his shift and proceeded to send the images to Russell. On Jan. 26, 2020, Cruz showed the photos to his niece while at his mother’s house. On Jan. 28, 2020, Cruz was at the Baja California and Grill where he “boasted that he had worked at the scene of the accident” and showed pictures “to a fellow bar patron and the restaurant’s bartender,” according to the lawsuit. 

Two days after the crash, Russell “shared the photos with a personal friend with whom Russell plays video games nightly,” according to the suit. However, the friend is a sheriff’s deputy at the Santa Clarita station which was not investigating the accident. 

Versales allegedly sent photos to Mejia and a detective at LASD. As a result of how casually the photos were shared within the department, “the detective could not even identify the name of the deputy who sent him the photos,” according to the suit. 

According to the lawsuit, all four deputies deleted the photos from their phones to hamper investigators once they found out about the case.

A few hours after Bryant’s Instagram post, Villanueva tweets that his department would “refrain from trying this case in the media and will wait for the appropriate venue.”

Bryant is suing for negligence, invasion of privacy, and a 14th Amendment violation. 

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