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The whistleblower who alerted the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department that one of its deputies was sharing gruesome photos of the crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven other passengers said he did not regret reporting the law enforcement officer.
Ralph Mendez was having dinner with a group of his teammates after playing in a softball league game earlier in the night. Two days had passed since the fatal crash that killed Mr Bryant and the others in the aircraft.
According to ABC 7, a bartender at the Baja California Bar and Grill in Norwalk told the men that a sheriff's deputy had been in earlier and was showing people disturbing photos from the crash scene.
"He has pictures, he showed me pictures," Mr Mendez said the bartender told them.
"Pictures of what?" the men asked.
"He began describing what he saw, you know? 'They were all burned,' and he got very graphic with it," Mr Mendez told the outlet.
Mr Mendez claims the bartender said the deputy was laughing while showing the photos, and said that they amused him.
"It just sounded bad," Mr Mendez said. "It just sounded wrong on different levels, whether it's legal or not. Whether it's against, you know, his sheriff's department policy. I don't know. But it just sounded...bad.”
After hearing the story, Mr Mendez submitted an online complaint to the sheriff's department.
"I thought to myself, 'If I don't say something, and it’s true, I don't think I'll ever be able to live with myself," he said.
Eventually the story was made public by the Los Angeles Times, which found that other deputies and LA County firefighters had also shared the grisly images. The story prompted a response from Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who described the revelation as a "punch to the gut."
"It's wildly inappropriate," he said during an interview in March 2020. "It's disgusting and it harms people that suffered a tragedy already. On top of that, to think it could be expanded beyond that, by having a public display of their loved ones remains, so this ... we're trying to put an end to this."
The situation resulted in Mr Bryant's wife, Vanessa, and other family members of the victims filing lawsuits against the county and the individuals involved. Ms Bryant's attorneys said that the photos were passed around to at least 28 deputies and at least a dozen firefighters.
The individuals involved have faced various punishments, including demotion, susepnsions and terminations.
LA County attorneys have pushed back against Ms Bryant's claims of emotional distress, saying they are based on "hypothetical harm" as the photos were not made public.
Ultimately, Mr Mendez said that despite the fallout from his report, he has no regrets and believes he did the right thing.
"I feel sorry for the families," he said. "I really feel bad, and I wish this wasn't happening. My prayers are with them, and yeah, I hope justice is served in all of this. I'd do it all over again. I just think it was the right thing to do."