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Family Says TV Show Broadcast Shooting Victim Before They Knew He Was Dead

"Live PD" producers captured the aftermath of a fatal shooting while riding with police in South Carolina Friday.
Image: An image of Benjamin Johnson from his Facebook page.
An image of Benjamin Johnson from his Facebook page.Facebook

The Friday night television show "Live PD" — which follows police officers in six states as they respond to calls — touts its work with the catchphrase, "This is what transparency looks like."

But with transparency comes the risk of showing too much.

That may have happened last week, when the A&E program captured the aftermath of a fatal shooting in South Carolina.

The mother of the victim, 37-year-old Benjamin Johnson, confirmed to NBC News that she learned of her son's death by watching her's son body on television.

An image of Benjamin Johnson from his Facebook page.Facebook

Chris Johnson, the victim's brother, told NBC affiliate WIS that someone had called to tell him about the shooting, and he rushed to the scene. "When I ran up the scene, I seen yellow tape, and when I see that I already know, somebody gone, and I knew it was my brother," Chris Johnson said.

"Live PD" producers were riding with Richland County Sheriff's Department deputies around 9 p.m. ET Friday as they responded to reports of a shooting in Columbia that left one man "unresponsive." An ambulance was already on the scene when the deputies arrived.

A producer, shooting from behind police tape, captured the victim lying motionless outside a home while investigators searched for evidence. The victim appeared dressed in a reflective work vest and dark blue pants, but his face was not distinguishable.

Lt. Curtis Wilson, a department spokesman, said the scene was shot as part of an arrangement with "Live PD" to broadcast their work as it happens.

"We didn't mind having the camera crew with us because they are able to see what we do, see what we go through, see what our interactions are with the community and how we go about trying to bring peace," Wilson said.

Wilson said that it wasn't immediately clear whether the victim was dead. But the footage showed paramedics waiting nearby while investigators examined the scene, prompting the show's host, Dan Abrams, to question whether they knew he had died.

Johnson was eventually pronounced dead at the scene, and the county coroner notified his family, Wilson said.

Wilson said it was up to the producers to decide whether to air the footage of the victim. "We are not controlling the cameras," he said. He compared the situation to people posting videos live on social media.

David Doss, "Live TV"'s executive producer — and former executive producer of NBC's Nightly News — said in an interview that Johnson's death was captured inadvertently, even though the show operates on a delay of several minutes.

Once the producers knew that the victim was dead, "we moved our cameras out of there," Doss said. "We got off of that shot right away."

Doss also said that "some family members knew" of Johnson's death "long before the audience knew."

When deputies went inside the house to console the victim's family, producers chose not to air it, Doss added.

Wilson said his department planned to meet with producers Wednesday to discuss whether to change the ground rules for future broadcasts.