THIS is the first pic of Los Angeles cop Rafael Mejia, who allegedly shared horror photos of Kobe Bryant’s body for 'morbid gossip', a lawsuit claims.
Vanessa Bryant's suit alleges that within just two days, at least 10 Sheriff's Department members had seen the photos and they became the "subject of gossip" within the force.
The shocking revelation comes as Vanessa Bryant named four Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies who allegedly took and shared graphic photos of the helicopter crash that killed her husband, daughter and seven others.
She has posted a photo of the front page of the lawsuit that names Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles County Fire Department, the sheriff’s department and four deputies — Joey Cruz, Rafael Mejia, Michael Russell and Raul Versales — as plaintiffs in the case.
The suit alleges that on the day of the crash Mejia, who was assigned to the crash site, obtained photos from fire department personnel.
He then alleged walked over to chat with a female deputy who wasn't involved in the investigation – and for no reason other than "morbid gossip", sent them to her cellphone.
It comes as:
- Joey Cruz, Rafael Mejia, Michael Russell and Raul Versales have been named as defendants in the civil rights lawsuit filed by Vanessa Bryant
- The legal action follows the horrific January 26, 2020 crash
- The crash was blamed on helicopter pilot Ara Zobayan’s decision to fly in fog when he ‘didn’t know which way was up’
According to the lawsuit, Mejia had allegedly obtained "multiple photographs of the Bryants' remains" from fire department personnel taken at the scene "and stored them on his personal cell phone", NBC reports.
Mejia is then claimed to have passed the photos to Cruz, a trainee deputy at the time, the lawsuit alleges.
It alleges that two days after the crash, Cruz "boasted" to a bartender at a Southern California bar and grill that he'd responded to the scene and showed photos the trainee deputy had been sent by Mejia.
They included bodies of a girl and of Kobe Bryant, the suit alleges.
The suit alleges that Cruz shared photos of Kobe Bryant's body with a bartender, and the others named in the suit are alleged to have passed around "gratuitous photos of the dead children, parents, and coaches".
The second part of Vanessa Bryant's lawsuit – that she has shared on social media – outlines allegations that officer Cruz showed crash pics to a bartender at the Baja California Bar and Grill in Norwalk, California.
One of the customers described his alleged actions as "very, very disturbing".
He filed an official complaint with the Sheriff’s department while sitting in his car after leaving the restaurant.
Cruz is also accused of showing the photos to his niece.
He also allegedly made "a crude remark about the state of the victims' remains".
JUDGE REJECTS SECRECY BID
His named was 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.
Their names were revealed as Kobe Bryant's grieving widow, 37, posted images of lawsuit documents she filed against Los Angeles County, the sheriff’s department, the county fire department, and the deputies in question on Wednesday.
Vanessa Bryant is seeking damages for negligence and invasion of privacy.
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.
The basketball star's widow, 37, has alleged members of the LASD shared multiple gruesome and unauthorized images of the crash scene.
Bryant’s widow's lawsuit alleged that within 48 hours of the crash, photos had spread to at least 10 members of the department.
One deputy, it is alleged, had taken between 25 and 100 photos of the crash scene on his cell phone.
There are disturbing allegations about what those deputies did with the photos of Kobe, Gianna and the other passengers.
Another officer, deputy Michael Russell, allegedly sent photos to a friend with whom he "plays video games nightly."
None of the deputies were directly involved in the investigation of the crash or had any legitimate purpose in taking or passing around the grisly photos, the suit contends.
According to the lawsuit, Sheriff Alex Villanueva allegedly summoned those deputies who had taken the photos into his office.
He is alleged to have said that if they deleted the photos they would not be disciplined.
Internal affairs were not allegedly told about the breach of privacy, and no probe was started until news of the photos was made public.
"We will refrain from trying this case in the media and will wait for the appropriate venue," Sheriff Alex Villanueva tweeted, adding, "our hearts go out to all the families affected by this tragedy."
Attorneys for the four sheriff’s deputies had wanted to keep their names and ranks sealed over fears their computers would be compromised.
They claimed "hackers may attempt to seek out and gain access to the individual deputies' devices to locate any photographs and publish them," state court documents.
However, US District Judge John F. Walter ruled last week that argument is "totally inconsistent with their position that such photographs no longer exist".
The ruling means Vanessa’s lawyers can add their names from an internal affairs probe into their conduct to an amended complaint in her civil rights lawsuit against LA county and the Sheriff’s Department.
In his ruling, Judge Walter found that allegations of police officer misconduct should not be hidden from public scrutiny, reported the LA Times.
“Indeed where the case involves allegations of police misconduct, the public has a vested interest in assessing the truthfulness of the allegations of official misconduct, and whether agencies that are responsible for investigating and adjudicating complaints of misconduct have acted properly and wisely,” he wrote.
The death of Bryant, who won five championships in his 20 seasons with the Lakers, stunned the sports world and led to an outpouring of emotion across the world.
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