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Police department in Kobe Bryant photo scandal allegedly has disturbing history of misconduct

The sheriff’s department that employs the officers accused of sharing grisly photographs of Kobe Bryant’s dead body has a history of such conduct and “gang culture” within its ranks, a new report said.

The allegations against the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department were raised by internal informants in a lawsuit against the department, The Sun reported.

The department is at the center of another lawsuit brought by Bryant’s widow after pictures were leaked of the 2020 helicopter crash that killed the basketball star, his daughter, and seven others.

Vanessa Bryant alleges that within two days of the crash, photos had been shared with at least 10 deputies and members of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

One deputy snapped up to 100 pictures on his phone, and another showed them to a bartender in suburban LA, the suit said.

Deputies Joey Cruz, Rafael Mejia, Michael Russell and Raul Versales are named in the suit.

Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among those killed in a helicopter crash in January 2020.
Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among those killed in a helicopter crash in January 2020.
Chris Carlson, file/AP

“The Sheriff’s and Fire Departments’ outrageous actions have caused Mrs. Bryant severe emotional distress and compounded the trauma of losing Kobe and Gianna,” Vanessa Bryant’s suit states.

“Mrs. Bryant feels ill at the thought that sheriff’s deputies, firefighters, and members of the public have gawked at gratuitous images of her deceased husband and child, and she lives in fear that she or her children will one day confront horrific images of their loved ones online.”

Lawyer Vincent Miller, who represents several of the whistleblowing cops in the separate lawsuit filed against the department, told The Sun that leaking photos is part of the culture at the LASD.

Miller added to the news site that his clients allege there is an internal LASD gang called the “Banditos.”

“Well, I can’t say it surprised me one bit unfortunately because I know for a fact that deputies, it’s a common practice among [them]… this is not the first time – let’s put it this way – that the deputies have shared, knowingly, and without reason photos, crime scene photos with each other,” Miller told the news site.

Vanessa Bryant speaks during a celebration of life for her husband Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna in Feb. 2020.
Vanessa Bryant speaks during a celebration of life for her husband Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna in Feb. 2020.
Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

“There’s deputies who like to snap pictures of grisly murders and dead bodies and pass it around to each other. And then Kobe’s a celebrity. So, just based on that, it didn’t shock me. It’s disgusting, obviously, it’s horrifying,” Miller reportedly said.

Miller said he was not aware if any of the cops named in the lawsuit were connected to the alleged violent gang of deputies he was taking action against, according to The Sun.

At least 47 deputies are allegedly part of the gang, where initiated members are required to get matching skeleton tattoos with a giant mustache, a sombrero and a bandolier and pistol, the article said.

The Banditos are reportedly accused of choking, hitting and bullying other cops to enforce a code of silence. The mistreatment extended to being denied promotions and backup in dangerous situations, according to the report.

“This latest thing that happened, the fact that my clients spoke up, you know, two of them were put unconscious by the Banditos in front of a bunch of other deputies, including some in uniform at a station event, and nobody did anything,” Miller told the newspaper.

“And they were threatened and warned to not speak up. And they went ahead and spoke up and suffered a tremendous amount of retaliation,” Miller said.

The department is now facing 106 lawsuits since last January ranging from civil rights violation to unreasonable search and seizure and battery, The Sun reported.

Firefighters work the scene of a helicopter crash where former NBA star Kobe Bryant died.
Firefighters work the scene of the helicopter crash where Kobe Bryant died.
Mark J. Terrill/AP

The LASD did not respond to the newspaper’s request for comment.

Vanessa Bryant is also suing Island Express Helicopters Inc. in connection with the Jan. 26, 2020 Calabasas disaster that killed Kobe, their 13-year-old daughter Gianna, six other youth basketball coaches, parents and players, and the pilot.

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