A staffer on the long-running television crime show Cops was shot and killed Tuesday night by gunfire from local police, while videotaping an armed robbery in progress in Omaha, Nebraska, that also left the suspect dead.
According to the Omaha Police Department, the incident took place at a Wendy's restaurant around 9:20 p.m. CT, in the vicinity of 42nd Street and Dodge.
Initial reports said the TV crew member — now identified by Langley Productions (which produces Cops) as 38-year-old audio technician Bryce Dion — had been critically injured. The news of his death broke Wednesday morning, as first reported by the Omaha World-Herald and local NBC affiliate WOWT. Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer named the victim, along with the suspect Cortez Washington, 32, at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
"We are striving for unprecedented transparency in this incident," Schmaderer said in the presser.
Schmaderer would not confirm reports that more than 30 shots were fired by officers, saying only that he did not believe an excessive amount of shots were used. No officers were injured in the incident.
Washington, a parolee from Kansas with a criminal history that included a previous robbery arrest, was carrying an Airsoft pellet gun, which, according to Schmaderer, sounds just like a real gun.
According to John and Morgan Langley, the father-and-son production team behind Cops, Dion was a very private person from the Boston area who had worked on the show for seven years. Dion, who had lived most recently in Santa Monica, California, had been promoted to sound supervisor this past year.
"We've been very fortunate over the years in that we've never had an incident like this," Morgan said at the press conference. "Cops truly is a reality show. It's not staged and not managed. And unfortunately, that's our highlight and our lowlight"
"We are deeply saddened and shocked by this tragedy and our main concern is helping [Dion's] family in any way we can," Langley Productions said Wednesday morning in a statement. "Bryce Dion was a long-term member of the Cops team and a very talented and dedicated person. We mourn his passing. An investigation is ongoing and we are cooperating with local authorities."
According to Schmaderer, Washington held up a Wendy's employee at gunpoint and demanded cash.
The suspect was described as wearing a "black hoodie and a white bandana" in a police radio call posted by @MeanStreetsOMA on Twitter. The Cops crew member was described as a white male in the police call.
Three officers, accompanied by Dion and Cops cameraman Michael Lee, entered the building in a tactical procedure. After Lee made a move to a new position, Dion was trapped in a vestibule and was caught in crossfire when officers returned gunfire at Washington. Although Cops crew members wear bullet-proof vests while working, a bullet hit Dion in an area between his arm and his upper torso that was not protected.
Following the gunfire, Washington and Dion were transported by Omaha Fire Rescue Squad to Nebraska Medical Center, where they were later pronounced dead.
Video of the scene by the World-Herald showed a bullet-ridden window of glass at the Wendy's.
Schmaderer added that portions of the shootout were captured on camera and that the video footage has been recovered and is being entered as evidence. Omaha PD released screen grabs of the incident to the media that demonstrated the intense level of the situation.
"When you're reporting police violence, unfortunately you're subjecting yourself to the same level of professional violence that police officers subject themselves to every day," Schmaderer said. "They knew they were heading into an armed robbery situation."
Cops has been filming in Omaha there since June. Production was originally scheduled to continue for one more week, and the Langleys said they don't yet know how they're going to proceed. They added that although they've begun to think about how they'll handle honoring Dion, it was too premature to comment on any plans.