Tag Archives: Omaha

‘Cops’ crew member killed in Omaha police shooting

By MARGERY A. BECK

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – When the call came from an officer who needed help facing an armed robber at a fast-food restaurant, two members of a reality television show riding along with Omaha police hustled to record the confrontation.

In the chaotic scene that unfolded, one crew member was struck by “friendly fire” from one of the officers, a bullet slipping past his bulletproof vest and killing him, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said Wednesday. The robbery suspect was also killed. The weapon he was carrying turned out to be a pellet gun, though it looked and sounded so real that both witnesses and officers were fooled, Schmaderer said.

Bryce Dion, 38, of Boston, the audio supervisor for “Cops,” is the first crew member of the long-running TV show to be killed while filming police in action, executives with the show’s production company said. Police identified the robbery suspect as 32-year-old Cortez Washington, who was on parole from Missouri for a robbery conviction.

Schmaderer told reporters that police and prosecutors have reviewed the “Cops” video of Tuesday’s shooting and found that the officers “had no choice” but to open fire, though a grand jury will still be tasked with investigating.

Schmaderer said the incident began when drive-thru customers alerted Detective Darren Cunningham – on his way to a different robbery scene in midtown Omaha – to an armed robbery at a Wendy’s. Cunningham called for backup, and Officers Brooks Riley and Jason Wilhelm – along with Dion and a “Cops” cameraman – arrived at the restaurant within 15 seconds, Schmaderer said.

The “Cops” crew followed the officers into the restaurant. There, police confronted a hooded and masked man. The cameraman darted into the dining area, crouched behind a low wall and held up his camera to record the confrontation. But Dion didn’t make it past the glass-enclosed entrance to the restaurant. Almost immediately, Schmaderer said, the suspect raised his gun and fired twice.

Schmaderer said three witnesses described Washington firing his gun directly at Cunningham and Riley. “The witnesses described hearing the suspect’s handgun being fired and seeing the slide recoil with the shots,” he said.

Officers returned fire, hitting Washington, who still managed to run from the store. Officers continued firing as Washington – his gun still pointed at police – entered the glass vestibule, Schmaderer said. It was then that a bullet hit Dion in the chest, Schmaderer said.

Washington collapsed in the restaurant parking lot.

After the shooting, police discovered that Washington’s weapon was an air gun that shoots only plastic pellets.

Washington’s criminal record included an accessory to robbery conviction from Missouri for which he was on parole. He moved to Nebraska in September 2013, and his parole was due to expire in June 2017.

“Cops” started on Fox in 1989 and is now shown on the Spike network. According to the “Cops” website, the show has been filmed in at least 140 U.S. cities and three foreign countries.

Langley Productions President John Langley and Executive Producer Morgan Langley described Dion as talented – “one of our best” – who had worked for the show for seven years.

“He did something that he loved and was passionate about,” Morgan Langley said. “We’ve been very fortunate over the years; we’ve never had an incident like this. Now we’re dealing with it, and it’s a very sad day for us.”

In 2010, a TV crew for the A&E reality show “The First 48” recorded a Detroit police raid in which a 7-year-old girl was accidentally killed by an officer. That incident highlighted concerns about whether TV cameras influence police behavior, perhaps encouraging showboating. But some experts and officers believe TV crews increase accountability.

Schmaderer bristled at the suggestion that his officers overreacted knowing that cameras were recording them, calling it “absolutely ridiculous.”

The police chief said he accepted the invitation from “Cops” to film in Omaha in the name of transparency. “Personally, I will live with this forever,” Schmaderer said. “If I’d have known that this would happen, of course, I wouldn’t have done it.”

Suspect found guilty in 4 Omaha shooting deaths

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – A Nebraska man described by one prison psychiatrist as a “psychopath” and “one of the most dangerous people” the doctor had ever evaluated was found guilty Wednesday of four counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of four Omaha people last summer.

Nikko Jenkins, 27, who is representing himself, filed a handwritten motion to the Douglas County District Court last week stating his intention to plead guilty to all felony counts against him. But on Wednesday, he pleaded no contest to the murder counts, eight weapons counts associated with the killings and two separate counts of being a felon with a gun.

Judge Peter Bataillon found him guilty of all charges.

A no-contest plea acknowledges there is sufficient evidence to convict but is not an admittance of guilt.

Prosecutors say Jenkins shot Juan Uribe-Pena, Jorge Cajiga-Ruiz, Curtis Bradford and Andrea Kruger in three separate ambushes over 10 days last summer after his July 30 release from prison without supervision.

While prosecutors say that Jenkins planned the killings to cover up robberies of the victims or to keep them from identifying him, Jenkins insisted he did not remember killing anyone, only that an Egyptian god named Ahpophis ordered him in a foreign language to kill the four as human sacrifices.

Dr. Eugene Oliveto, who serves as a psychiatrist for the prison system in Douglas County, testified in a February hearing on Jenkins’ competency that Jenkins was a “psychopath” and “one of the most dangerous people I have ever evaluated.”

Bataillon found Jenkins competent to stand trial.

Jenkins had flipped between expressing his guilt and declaring his innocence since being charged with the killings in September. After initially pleading not guilty, he declared in November that he wanted to plead guilty. He had changed his mind again by late January, saying he is mentally ill and should be released from jail.

During a contentious two-hour hearing in which Jenkins cursed and attempted to introduce various arguments rejected by the judge, he said Wednesday that he wanted to plead guilty because he believes his constitutional rights are being violated and that he can’t get a fair trial in state court. The judge later let him plead no contest to the charges.

Jenkins had tried to plead no contest to all the charges earlier this month, but the judge refused to accept the plea because of the severity of the charges.

The judge later allowed Jenkins to plead no contest to the murder counts, as well, when Jenkins denied prosecutors’ version of how Jenkins carried out the fatal shootings.

“My problem is, he disagrees with your factual analysis of the case,” Bataillon said to Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine, in explaining why he could not accept Jenkins’ guilty pleas to the murder counts. “He’s not admitting to anything.”

Police say Jenkins used a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun loaded with deer slugs Aug. 11 to kill Cajiga-Ruiz and Uribe-Pena, whose bodies were found inside a pickup truck in southeast Omaha. Eight days later, he used a small-caliber gun to kill Bradford, a one-time prison acquaintance. Then, on Aug. 21, police say, Jenkins pulled Andrea Kruger from her SUV as she drove home from work and shot her four times before speeding off in her vehicle.

Prosecutors said Wednesday they will still seek the death penalty for Jenkins, who waived his right to a jury trial on the question of whether he should be put to death or sentenced to life in prison without parole. A three-judge panel will instead decide his fate.

Kleine said he doesn’t know of a Nebraska case in which a person has been executed after pleading no contest to first-degree murder, but said Jenkins is not the first defendant to plead no contest and be convicted of first-degree murder.

Jenkins’ release from prison is one of several that have prompted the state to reconsider its supervised release programs.

He had threatened violence while incarcerated and begged corrections officials to commit him to a mental health institution. A state ombudsman’s report released in January faulted the department for its handling of the case.

Two bills introduced by Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha on the topic were passed by the Nebraska Legislature this year and are awaiting the governor’s approval. One would provide more supervision for former inmates and another would create programs that help them transition back to society.