OMAHA, Neb. -- Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer identified the two men killed during a robbery Tuesday night as 32-year-old Cortez Washington, the suspect, and 38-year-old Bryce Dion, an audio supervisor 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 p.m. Tuesday 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 p.m., 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.
Omaha Deputy Police Chief Dave Baker said Tuesday night that a man was holding a clerk at gunpoint and demanded cash.
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 Darren 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.”
The chief said Airsoft guns look very realistic and said, “It was a very professional response by the officers.”
The chief said he had no regrets about agreeing to have the Cops crew working with OPD officers. He said OPD has had some tough times and, “I wanted Cops to come in and see the Omaha Police Department and put a period on the past. I haven’t slept since this happened. Personally, I will live with this forever and of course if I had known this would happen, I wouldn’t have done it. Bryce was their friend. This is as if we lost one of our own. That is the grieving process right now. He was an incredible man. The tears and hugs I got at the hospital, I could feel the pain of the officers in this matter."
The Cops crews wear bulletproof vests and do receive training. The head of production was at Wednesday’s news conference and said they’ve never had anything like this happen before.
The show's executive producers flew into Omaha as soon as they heard the news and say they're devastated.
Morgan Langley said, "Bryce has been with us for seven years. And honestly, he is, he really is one of our best. This is a hard time for us. He's a very talented guy, and he did something that he loved and that he's passionate about. We've been very fortunate over the years that we've never had an incident like this. Unfortunately this happened. And you know we're dealing with it. And it's a very sad day for us."
The crew has been in Omaha since June. They had a week of filming left before they were scheduled to leave.
Cops TV reached out to former Lincoln Chief of Police, Tom Casady in the early 2000s. He declined, saying the show portrayed an inaccurate view of police work.