A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy admitted in court Tuesday that he sent graphic photos of the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash site to a colleague while the two were playing “Call of Duty.”
Dep. Mike Russell made the shocking revelation while being questioned on the stand as part of a federal invasion-of-privacy lawsuit filed by the NBA star’s widow, Vanessa Bryant.
“No, I don’t find dead bodies entertaining or amusing,” Russell said at one point during his testimony.
Russell recalled how, the day after the January 2020 tragedy, he was taking part in a video gaming session and decided to ask Santa Clarita Dep. Ben Sanchez if he wanted to see images taken at the Calabasas, Calif., crash site.
When Sanchez told him yes, Russell, who was lounging on a recliner, said in court he texted him three or four images of the wreckage.
Admitting there was no legitimate reason to share the photos, Russell said he had made a “callous mistake.” Sanchez had no role in the investigation, he added.
He claimed he shared the photos “in order to get through the stresses of the day before.”
Russell testified that he had been sent the images by another deputy, Joey Cruz, who said on the stand Monday that he regretted sharing photos from the scene of the crash that killed the Lakers legend, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people.
Cruz wrapped up his testimony Tuesday, and admitted that he had also shown the images to a bartender at a local watering hole. But he denied showing other bar patrons Kobe Bryant’s torso on his cell phone.
Vanessa Bryant’s attorneys again played footage of Cruz at the Baja California Bar and Grill, scrolling through his phone and showing his bartender pal disturbing photos of body parts strewn across the hillside in Calabasas.
The video elicited the same emotional reaction from the grieving widow as when her lawyers first played it in court earlier in the trial, sending her out of the courtroom in tears.
Another deputy, Nicholas Bonelli, later took the stand, recalling how he spoke with Kobe Bryant’s assistant the morning of the crash.
Bonelli, who is a liaison between officers in the station and those in the field, testified the assistant called to inquire if any accidents occurred because it was weird to not hear from Bryant after a short flight.
Bonelli said he was shown a crash scene photo, including the image of a light skinned foot.
Meanwhile, Russell also acknowledged that a three-paragraph memo he had written contained five false statements, including one assertion that he had quickly deleted the photos.
No disciplinary action was taken against Russell by the sheriff’s department.
Vanessa Bryant, who was dressed head to toe in back, could be seen at times whispering and writing notes to her lawyer and also unwrapping candy.
She is expected to take the stand later this week.
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