At a Wednesday afternoon news conference, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer confirmed Dion’s death, saying it was “an emotionally tough time for the ‘Cops’ production crew family and the Omaha Police Department.”
Dion, a “Cops” photographer and two Omaha police officers responding to a call for backup arrived at the scene of an armed robbery in progress about 9:20 on Tuesday night, Schmaderer said.
“Officers immediately confronted the robbery suspect … who was armed with a handgun,” the police chief said. That handgun turned out to be an Airsoft pistol, which looks like a firearm but fires plastic bullets.
Believing the Airsoft gun to be loaded with live rounds, three officers returned fire on the masked suspect after he shot at them. In what the chief described as “a chaotic scene,” Dion “got stuck in the vestibule” of the restaurant, as the photographer was able to take cover in the eating area of the facility.
Although “Cops” crew members wear protective vests while filming, Schmaderer said Dion — a seven-year veteran of the production crew — was hit by a single bullet in the left arm during the shootout. The bullet then “slipped in” between an open spot in the vest. An autopsy is still pending.
The bullet that killed Dion came from an officer’s gun, Schmaderer said. “This was a friendly fire situation. It was an officer’s round that struck Mr. Dion.” Schmaderer couldn’t confirm the exact number of bullets fired in the shootout, but denied that the volume of shots fired was “excessive.”
Prompted by a reporter’s question, Schmaderer called the idea that the officers were “showing off” for the cameras “ridiculous.”
“Nobody wanted Bryce to get hurt. Nobody wanted anybody to get hurt,” Schmaderer said. He also offered his condolences to the family of the deceased suspect, identified Wednesday as Cortez Washington.
The incident is being investigated, Schmaderer said. The three officers who fired at Washington — Detective Darren Cunningham and officers Brooks Riley and Jason Wilhelm — are on paid leave pending the result of the investigation. The state will also convene a grand jury to examine the evidence.
Portions of the shootout were filmed by the production crew. That footage is now evidence in the investigation. “Based on our view into the footage,” Schmaderer added, “the officers had no choice” but to return fire.
“Cops,” which has been on the air since 1989, embeds production crews with police departments across the country. The proto-reality show has been filming in Omaha for about a month. In June, Schmaderer said he was “proud of the department and want the professionalism of our officers on display for the city and world to see,” according to the Associated Press.
John and Morgan Langley, the father-son executive producers of “Cops,” said that their crew had another week of filming scheduled in Omaha, but that they weren’t sure whether production would continue. Some crew members, they said, are currently in counseling.
This post has been updated.