A Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy expressed regret for sharing photos of a helicopter crash site where Kobe Bryant was killed with a bartender, but insisted he never identified the NBA superstar as one of the victims.
Joey Cruz, who was a deputy trainee at the time of the 2020 crash, admitted showing the bartender pictures from the incident, but said there were no identifying features of the remains.
“I took it too far and did something I shouldn’t have,” Cruz told a Los Angeles federal jury on the fourth day of a trial where Bryant’s widow Vanessa is seeking damages from Los Angeles County over the sharing of the crash site photos. She claims sharing them was an invasion of privacy and negligent. Cruz said he was “stressed and overwhelmed” in venting to the bartender, a close friend of his.
The jury has heard deputies and fire department responders shared grisly photos showing the remains of Bryant, his daughter and seven others who were killed when the helicopter they were traveling in crashed in cloudy weather over Calabasas in January 2020.
Deputy Rafael Mejia told the jury he shared the photos with Cruz and another trainee, and also expressed some regret for doing so. But Mejia switched back and forth in his testimony about whether the photos showed remains of the victims, despite having had a conversation logged of him telling another deputy that “not a single person was intact” at the crash scene.
“Looking back now, I absolutely wouldn’t do it again,” Mejia said. He said they wanted the photos so they would know what the scene looked like, not to see the remains of the victims.
“We wanted to know what was up there because we weren’t there,” he said.
Mejia and another sheriff’s deputy, Raul Versales, said in separate statements that the photos were immediately erased from their phones after the incident. Although they insisted they wrote the statement in their own words, Mejia couldn’t explain why at least parts of the two statements were identical.
Cruz received a 10-day suspension for sharing the photos, a penalty he told the jury he thought was too harsh. He said he kept the photos to possibly write up a report, but admitted he never did that.