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'Cops' show logo. / FOX

A police officer fired the bullet that killed a crewmember of the long-running TV show Cops when officers responded to a robbery call, Omaha police said Wednesday.

The crewmember was identified as Bryce Dion, 38, who was working as the sound technician when he was killed Tuesday night by what Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer called "friendly fire." The other member of the Cops crew, cameraman Michael Lee, was unharmed.

Dion and Lee had followed police officers to a Wendy's restaurant where a robbery was reported to be in progress. When police confronted the suspect he fired twice, according to witnesses cited by Schmaderer. Officers returned fire, striking the suspect, 32-year-old Cortez Washington, multiple times. One shot also hit Dion.

It turned out that shot could not have come from Washington, because the suspect was only armed with an Airsoft pistol, which fires plastic pellets.

Despite his injuries, Washington managed to escape out the back door before he collapsed in the Wendy's parking lot. It was there police discovered he had not been armed with a real pistol.

"The Airsoft pistol looks and functions like an actual firearm," Schmaderer said. Police presented stills from video of the robbery to demonstrate why the officers felt the suspect was threatening them with a real handgun.

Washington and Dion were taken to the University of Nebraska Medical Center where they were pronounced dead.

Schmaderer identified the officers who discharged their weapons as 10-year veteran officer Darren Cunningham, 37; 4-year veteran officer Brooks Riley, 35; and 4-year veteran officer Jason Willhelm, 39. The officers are on paid administrative leave pending an investigation, which is normal procedure in officer-involved shootings.

The footage shot by Lee is being used in the investigation and Schmaderer said that after watching the video, which he called "dramatic," it was his opinion that the police had no choice but to fire at Washington.

"The investigation is in the early stages but we felt it was imperative to brief the public with as much information as we have at this time," Schmaderer said. "We are striving for unprecedented transparency in this investigation."

Cops has been filming in Omaha since June. "Over the summer the Cops crew and the officers they followed have become friends and this is especially difficult for them," Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said.

In June, Schmaderer explained that he wanted Cops to film his department in action to put "the professionalism of our officers on display for the city and the world to see," according to the Omaha World-Herald.

"We are deeply saddened and shocked by this tragedy and our main concern is helping his family in way we can," Langley Productions, which produces Cops, said in a statement. "Bryce Dion was a long term member of the Cops team and a very talented and dedicated person."

Dion had been with Langley Productions for seven years and had recently been promoted to sound supervisor, a Langley Productions producer said.

Cops embeds camera crews with police units and uses no narration, other than the dialogue of the officers and those they come into contact with. The show is described on its website as one of the first "true and unscripted reality shows."

The show first aired on March 11, 1989, and has earned four Emmy nominations.



Copyright 2014USAToday

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