After film crew shot, Omaha mayor says ride-along decision left to police chief

Deena Winter
|
Aug 29, 2014 10:31 AM
After film crew shot, Omaha mayor says ride-along decision left to police chief
AP photo

THE CALL: Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said she let Police Chief Todd Schmaderer make the call as to whether the TV show “Cops” should be allowed to shoot in Omaha, leading to a deadly incident that killed a TV crewman and robbery suspect.

 

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. — Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said she left the final decision on whether to allow the “Cops” TV show to film to Police Chief Todd Schmaderer.

Her spokeswoman told Nebraska Watchdog the mayor was consulted about whether to allow the show to follow Omaha cops, but Schmaderer “made the final decision to let them feature Omaha.”

“I let that decision be up to him,” Stothert said Thursday on the Tom Becka Show. “I said it’ll be your decision whether this is something you want to do with your department.”

A 38-year-old “Cops” sound engineer, Bryce Dion, was killed in the crossfire as police responded Tuesday night to a robbery at a Wendy’s restaurant. The robbery suspect, 32-year-old Cortez Washington, also was killed. Police say Washington first fired with what turned out to be an Airsoft pistol that fires plastic pellet bullets.

“Cops” had been shooting in Omaha for several weeks this summer, and was one week away from wrapping.

The reality show had previously approached Omaha officials about filming, but was rejected. The mayor said she and the city attorney were approached by the chief with the proposal.

“He thought this was something that would be more acceptable to him to do because he felt like the Omaha Police Department was an excellent department, it had nothing to hide,” Stothert said. “He said he wanted to let the rest of the country know what a professional police department we had. Ultimately, I let it be his decision.”

Some would say that backfired, and they question whether police used excessive force in firing more than 30 rounds in the restaurant, accidentally killing the TV crewman. The police chief said the suspect fired twice first, and police didn’t realize it was a pellet gun until after the incident.

“The Omaha Police Department is a super agency, we had some rough times,” the chief said during the Tuesday news conference, noting that they’ve recovered from an excessive use case in March 2013.

“We’ve become a very professional, strong organization. And I wanted ‘Cops’ to come in so that they can see the Omaha Police Department and put a period on the past and show everybody how professional and how adept we are at doing the work. And I’ve seen six or seven of the shows that can be aired and it just shows amazing professionalism.”

Asked whether he regretted allowing “Cops” to film, he said in one sense, no, because he wanted to be transparent.

“Personally, I will live with this forever,” he said. “If I’d have known this would happen, of course I wouldn’t have done it.”

Dion was wearing a bulletproof vest while riding along with the police, but a bullet slipped through a gap in the vest. The creators of the TV show said this is the first time a “Cops” staffer has been seriously hurt or killed while filming.

“‘Cops’ truly is a reality show, it’s not manipulated, it’s not managed, it’s not staged, it’s all true, it’s real, and it happens as it happens,” John Langley, the show’s creator, said at the Wednesday news conference. “Unfortunately, that’s our highlight and our lowlight in this particular instance.”

Stothert said she signed a legal contract with the production company that produces “Cops,” as did the city legal department. Contrary to some reports questioning whether the city might be liable for the shooting and whether that contract had expired, she said it still in effect at the time of the shooting because “both parties were still performing under the terms of the contract.” She said she doesn’t expect any lawsuits against the city over the incident.

She said she finds it offensive for people to suggest police might have been showing off for the cameras.

“They went in that restaurant to try to preserve lives,” she said.

Stothert said she viewed the “Cops” video of the incident and “It was quite chilling what they found when they went into the restaurant.”

A grand jury will investigate, as is standard procedure, and the mayor said no federal agencies are involved at this point.

She said she felt it inappropriate for people to make any comparison with the Ferguson, Mo., shooting of an unarmed young man, noting her police chief held a news conference within a day and released as much information as he could — including the names of the three officers involved — despite an ongoing investigation and during an “emotionally tough time.”

“We do have a very professional police department and they put themselves in harm’s way to protect us every single day and unfortunately, incidents like this, they occur,” she said.

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