Joey Cruz Displayed Kobe Bryant Crash Photos to Bar Patron—Lawsuit

A Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department trainee deputy shared photos of the remains of Kobe Bryant and his teenage daughter to family members and a patron in a bar, according to a lawsuit filed by the widow of the late Los Angeles Lakers legend.

Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant, and seven other people were killed when the helicopter they were flying in crashed just outside Calabasas, California, on January 26, 2020.

Earlier this month, Vanessa Bryant won a case against the L.A. County Sheriff's Department to publish the names of the four deputies who are alleged to have shared pictures of the crash site with officers not involved in the investigation and with members of the public.

On Wednesday night, she published excerpts of her lawsuit against the L.A. County Sheriff's and Fire Departments in 12 separate posts on Instagram, with the names of the four deputies—Joey Cruz, Rafael Meija, Michael Russell and Raul Versales—highlighted in red in the first post.

According to the lawsuit, Cruz, a trainee deputy with the Department, received the pictures of the crash site and of the Bryants remains from Meija, who had allegedly "obtained multiple photos of Bryants' remains," after stationing himself at the Department's makeshift command post at the Las Virgenes Water District.

The lawsuit claims Cruz then shared the pictures with "multiple individuals without any legitimate governmental purpose, including several members of the public." On the evening of the crash, he allegedly texted the pictures to Russell's personal cell phone, despite the fact neither deputy had a role in investigating the crash or identifying the victims.

Two days later, Cruz showed photos of the remains of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter to his niece, the lawsuit states. Prior to showing the pictures, "Cruz made a crude remark about the state of the victims' remains."

On the same day, he also allegedly showed the same photos to a patron and a bartender at the Baja California Bar and Grill in Norwalk, California.

According to the lawsuit, Cruz "boasted that he had worked at the scene of the accident where Kobe Bryant had died" and was seen on the bar's security camera "zooming in and out of the images while displaying them to the bartender."

As per the excerpts Vanessa Bryant shared in her Instagram posts, one of the pictures "showed the body of a girl, and Cruz remarked the other showed the remains of Kobe Bryant." The bartender subsequently boasted he had been shown the photos to several patrons and fellow members of staff, describing "the image in graphic detail," the lawsuit claims.

After hearing the bartender describing the photos, one of the patrons emailed a formal complaint to the sheriff's department on the same night.

In a Twitter post on Wednesday, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva did not address the case directly, but stated the Department "will refrain from trying this case in the media and will wait for the appropriate venue."

We will refrain from trying this case in the media and will wait for the appropriate venue. Our hearts go out to all the families affected by this tragedy.

— Alex Villanueva (@LACoSheriff) March 18, 2021

According to the lawsuit, Vanessa Bryant immediately raised concerns about the privacy of the crash site with Villanueva, who reassured her it would not be an issue.

However, an investigation carried out by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department subsequently found one deputy took up to 100 pictures of the crash site—including some focusing on the victims—on his personal phone. According to the lawsuit, several of those pictures were shared via text message or via the AirDrop feature on iPhones.

Kobe Bryant
A view of Kobe Bryant street art by artist Super Unleaded Gasoline is seen outside the Los Angeles Convention Center on January 26 in Los Angeles, California. The day marked the one year anniversary of the tragic helicopter crash which led to the death of nine people, including Bryant and his daughter Gianna. Frazer Harrison/Getty Images