OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) — Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer identified the two men killed during a robbery Tuesday night as 32-year-old Cortez Washington, the suspect, and Bryce Dion, an audio technician with the television show COPS. Both were killed by police gunfire.
The chief said, “The officers had no choice other than to respond in the way that they did.”
The chief said the incident began to unfold at 9:05 Tuesday night when Officer Darin Cunningham was sent to investigate a reported robbery at the Little Caesar's Pizza restaurant on Saddle Creek. The suspect was described as a white female.
At 9:20, Officer Cunningham called for backup at the Wendy's restaurant at 43rd and Dodge. Officers Brooks Riley and Jason Wilhelm arrived accompanied by the COPS crew, in town shooting for an upcoming show.
An apparent robbery was in progress inside the Wendy's.
The chief said Wednesday all three officers entered the restaurant and confronted the suspect. The COPS crew - a photographer and Dion, the audio tech - went in with them.
Schmaderer said according to witnesses, the suspect discharged a handgun that turned out to be an Airsoft pellet gun. He says witnesses reported hearing the gun and seeing the recoil.
“The first two audible shots were from Mr. Washington’s gun,” the chief said.
Officers returned fire. Washington was shot.
The chief said, “Mr. Dion was also injured by a single gunshot and collapsed.”
Dion was in the vestibule at the entrance of the restaurant.
Both men were taken to the Nebraska Medical Center and pronounced dead a short time later.
The COPS production company, Langley Productions, issued the following statement Wednesday:
"We are deeply saddened and shocked by this tragedy and our main concern is helping his family in any way we can. 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."
COPS, a syndicated reality show that depicts law enforcement officers in action, has been in Omaha shadowing police since June.
Both the chief and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert expressed their condolences to families of those killed in the incident.
The chief said the officers who fired are 37-year-old Darin Cunningham, a 10-year veteran, 35-year-old Brooks Riley, a four-year veteran and 39-year-old Jason Wilhelm, a four-year veteran. As per police policy all are currently on paid administrative leave and as per state law, a grand jury will investigate.
Schmaderer says police have reviewed video of the incident shot by the COPS cameraman and it shows the officers, “had no choice other than to respond in the way that they did.”