The judge in a wrongful death lawsuit against Omaha police officers who fatally shot two men in 2014 -- including a member of a “Cops” camera crew shadowing them -- has released footage that shows what happened inside a Wendy’s restaurant being robbed that night.
Officers fired more than 30 rounds in the fast food restaurant that they responded to on Aug. 26, 2014, on a robbery call. When the gunfire ended less than 20 seconds later, Bryce Dion, 38, sat slumped over and dying against the window in the Wendy’s vestibule, surrounded by his equipment.
Also killed in the gunfire was 32-year-old Cortez Washington, who police officials said was robbing the restaurant while armed with a pellet gun. The officers fired at Washington as he fired his gun, which they believed to be real.
NBC News reported that Washington’s Airsoft pistol fired plastic pellets.
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The video footage was obtained Tuesday by the Omaha World-Herald following a hearing in the wrongful death suit, which was filed by Dion’s brother, Travis Dion.
“It’s probably the best piece of evidence to show the conduct of everyone involved,” said attorney Christian Williams, who is representing Travis Dion. “It’s very chilling, and it shows a very unnecessary situation that led to the death of a filmmaker.”
Bryce Dion was a sound mixer for “Cops,” which was filming officers working in Omaha. The World-Herald reported that he and cameraman Michael Lee were riding along with two officers, Brooks Riley and Jason Wilhelm, when the officers responded to the robbery call at Wendy’s.
The footage released Tuesday, which was filmed by Lee, begins with the crew in the back of the officers’ patrol car. They follow Riley and Wilhelm into the parking lot and both enter the Wendy’s behind Riley and a detective, Darren Cunningham, who had requested backup for the robbery in progress, NBC News reported. Wilhelm is seen running around to the other side of the restaurant, where he entered from a separate door.
The recording shows Washington behind the counter as Riley and Cunningham approach the doorway leading to the work area. One of the officers appears to yell, “Gun!” before the shooting begins.
See the entire recording obtained by the World-Herald, and shared by KMTV 3 in Omaha, below. Warning: The video contains images that may be too graphic for some viewers.
Riley and Cunningham can be seen moving out of the doorway and falling back against the wall as they fire their weapons. Washington, who has been struck by the gunfire, runs out from behind the counter and past the officers.
The officers continue firing as Washington flees the restaurant through the door where police officials said Dion became trapped in the vestibule by the gunfire.
Lee’s camera footage shows that he ducked behind a table in the lobby during the shooting. When the gunfire ends, he runs to where Dion had slumped down, his right arm moving weakly.
“Bryce, are you all right? Bryce, are you all right?” a panicked-sounding Lee asks.
Lee steps outside through a bullet-damaged door to the parking lot, where additional officers who responded to the robbery call are heard screaming for Washington to show them his hands.
Lee returns to the vestibule.
“Bryce! Stay with me, man. Stay with me,” he cries.
Dion, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, was struck by one round from an officer’s gun. The bullet pierced his body under his left armpit, where there was a gap in the vest.
He died a short time later at University of Nebraska Medical Center, NBC News reported.
Washington, a parolee who had an extensive criminal history that included a previous robbery in Missouri, also died at the hospital of multiple gunshot wounds, the World-Herald reported. Toxicology reports later showed that Washington had a high level of PCP in his system when he died.
Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer, who the World-Herald said had invited “Cops” to Omaha to help build public trust in the department, cleared the officers of any wrongdoing after a review of the shooting.
“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 in 2014, according to NBC News. “The witnesses described hearing the suspect’s handgun being fired and seeing the slide recoil with the shots.”
A grand jury also found that the officers’ actions were justified.
Trevor Dion’s lawsuit argues that the department was negligent in allowing the TV crew to ride along with officers, stating that they were “not ready, willing or able to provide adequate instruction, oversight, supervision or protection,” the newspaper reported in 2016, when the lawsuit was filed.
The suit also argues that the amount of deadly force used by the officers was excessive and that they misdirected their gunfire toward Dion, who was an unarmed bystander and therefore not a threat.
The video was played in open court Tuesday as evidence in a motion filed by the city of Omaha, which sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, the World-Herald reported. The city has sought to bar the release of the footage.
Dion had been with “Cops” for seven years at the time of his death, according to the Paramount Network. He had recently been promoted to sound supervisor.
“Bryce had a passion for life and his work, and was always the first one to help anyone in need. He will best be remembered for a smile that never faded,” Morgan and John Langley, the father and son executive producers of “Cops,” said in 2014. “All of us who knew him or worked with him on ‘Cops,’ as well as the many friends he made working on documentaries and other shows, mourn his passing.”
Dion was the first crew member killed in “Cops” long history.
The show honored his memory in September 2014 with an hour-long episode featuring some of his work.