A sound supervisor for the venerable television program "COPS" was killed while covering a shootout Tuesday night between police and an armed robber in Omaha, Nebraska.
Bryce Dion, 38, was stuck in a vestibule inside a Wendy's restaurant as three police officers opened fire on an armed robbery suspect, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said during a press conference Wednesday. Although he was wearing a bulletproof vest, a round hit below Dion's left armpit, where there is an opening in the vest, Schmaderer said. He died shortly after at University of Nebraska Medical Center.
It is the first time a crew member for "COPS" has been killed in the documentary-style show's 25-year-old history, said co-creator John Langley, who attended the press conference with his father and co-creator Morgan Langley. Dion, a single and private man who grew up near Boston, Massachusetts, worked on the TV series for seven years and recently had been promoted to sound supervisor, John Langley said.
"He really is one of our best," he added. "This is a hard time for us. He's a very talented guy and he did something that he loved and was passionate about. We're very fortunate that over the years we've never had an incident like this. Unfortunately, it happened and we're dealing with it."
The incident at the Wendy's in downtown Omaha began at 9:20 p.m. when Detective Darren Cunningham requested backup for a robbery in progress inside the restaurant. Within 15 seconds, officers Brooks Riley and Jason Wilhelm arrived accompanied by "COPS" cameraman Michael Lee and Dion.
The three officers entered the restaurant — Cunningham and Riley through the east and Wilhelm through the west. Lee and Dion followed Cunningham and Riley, the chief said. The officers immediately confronted the suspect, who was holding a handgun and has been identified as 32-year-old Cortez Washington, Schmaderer said.
"Three individuals inside of Wendy's witnessed Mr. Washington holding a handgun, and discharge the handgun directly at detective Cunningham and Officer Riley," Schmaderer said. "The witnesses described hearing the suspect's handgun being fired and seeing the slide recoil with the shots. The first two audible shots were from Mr. Washington."
The officers returned fire, and though Washington was injured multiple times, he was able to flee out the east door and collapse in the parking lot. Washington's weapon turned out to be an Airsoft pistol that fires plastic pellet bullets, Schmaderer said.
"This was as if we've lost one of our own."
"It looks and very much sounds like a gun," Schmaderer said. "It was a very harrowing situation for the officers involved."
Dion was shot once by an officer's round, Schmaderer said. The incident was captured by Lee's camera and police officials and county attorneys have reviewed the "dramatic video," he said.
"When they encountered the suspect and gunfire ensued, and Mr. Washington is on his way out, they are returning fire and Bryce is in the vestibule and gets struck by a round," Schmaderer said. "I haven't slept since this happened."
Washington, who had a lengthy criminal history that includes a previous robbery in Missouri, also died at the hospital. The three officers are on paid administrative leave, pending a grand jury investigation.
One of the longest-running TV shows in the United States, "COPS" follows local and federal law enforcement officers from across the nation during patrols, drug-related stings, domestic violence calls, high-speed chases, and stakeouts. It has been filming in Omaha since June and is scheduled to be finished next week, Morgan Langley said.
The police officers and crews form tight bonds as they face dangerous situations together.
Saying he "will live with this forever," Schmaderer said Dion had become close friends with Riley and Wilhelm and many other officers in the department.
"This was as if we've lost one of our own," the visibly emotional chief said. "He was an incredible man. The tears and hugs that I got when I arrived at the hospital, I could feel everyone's pain."