Rafael Mejia Shared Kobe Bryant Crash Photos For 'Morbid Gossip'—Lawsuit

An officer with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department shared pictures of helicopter crash that claimed the life of Kobe Bryant in January last year simply to satisfy "morbid gossip," according to a lawsuit filed by Vanessa Bryant.

The widow of the late Los Angeles Lakers legend shared excerpts of her lawsuit against the L.A. County Sheriff's and Fire Departments in 12 separate posts on Instagram on Wednesday night.

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.

Deputy officer Rafael Mejia, the lawsuit alleges, "obtained multiple photos of Bryant's remains," after stationing himself at the Department's makeshift command post at the Las Virgenes Water District.

After obtaining the photos, he stored them on his personal cell phone, before sharing them with "at least two individuals without any legitimate governmental purpose."

He allegedly shared the photos with a female deputy, who had no links with the investigation. He did so unprompted and "for no reason other than morbid gossip," the lawsuit claims.

When quizzed by investigators, Mejia admitted the female officer did not need the photos and that it was inappropriate to send them to her.

According to the lawsuit, he justified his actions by saying that "curiosity got the best of [them]" and that curiosity was "in [their] nature" as deputies.

Mejia is also alleged to have sent the pictures to Joey Cruz, a trainee deputy with the Sheriff's Department. Mejia and Cruz were two of the four deputy officers named in the lawsuit, along with Michael Russell and Raul Versales.

The names of the four deputies were circled in red in Vanessa Bryant's first Instagram post on Wednesday. According to lawsuit, she immediately raised concerns about the privacy of the crash site with Sheriff Alex 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.

In a Twitter post on Wednesday, 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

Earlier this month, Vanessa Bryant won a case against the L.A. County Sheriff's Department to publish the names of the four deputies after U.S. District Judge John F. Walter rejected the department's efforts to keep the identity of the quartet under seal.

In the ruling, Walter argued allegations of police officers' misconduct ought to be made public.

"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 L.A. County Sheriff's Department had argued releasing the names of the four deputies would make their personal information, including addresses, easily available online. Walter, however, rejected the argument.

"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," Walter wrote.

Kobe Bryant
Fans visit a mural of former NBA star Kobe Bryant who, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, died on January 26, 2020 in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California as they were flying to his Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, where he was going to coach her in a tournament game. David McNew/Getty Images

Editor's pick

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to Newsweek.com
  • Ad free Newsweek.com experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to Newsweek.com
  • Ad free Newsweek.com experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts