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Judge to Decide Whether Omaha Police Had Duty to Protect 'Cops' Sound Tech Killed by Officers

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Domina Law Group has concluded trial over the case of a man who was inadvertently shot and killed by an Omaha Police officer’s bullet while filming an episode of Cops. As noted by the Omaha World-Herald, Attorney Brian E. Jorde and our legal team are representing the family of 38-year-old Bryce Dion, a sound technician who was tragically killed on the scene of an active robbery.

Because it was the bullet of a police officer which struck Dion, Jorde and our firm filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Omaha. In it, our claims focus on the failures of the City and OPD, what officers should have done when responding to the Wendy’s restaurant on the August evening in 2014 when the shooting occurred, and the profound suffering and losses endured by the family.

A High-Profile Case, Aggressive Defense

The case has made headlines for being the first on-duty death of a Cops crew member in the show’s 30-year history, and because it concerned questions over whether the City of Omaha and the Omaha Police Department had a legal duty to protect the film crew, who had been riding with two OPD officers for eight weeks prior to the incident. Though Dion and the cameraman had become friends with the officers during that time, another OPD detective who arrived at the scene prior to them did not know who the two men were, and believed they were from the department’s SWAT or gang unit.

The underlying events, according to the suit, involved three Omaha PD officers firing 36 rounds at a robbery suspect, 24 of which were fired as he fled the restaurant with his back turned to officers. The suspect, who was also killed, was found to be in possession of a pellet gun. It was likely one of the officers’ bullets which killed Dion, who entered a booth after gunfire broke out. As Jorde argued at trial:

Officers should have instructed Dion and the cameraman to remain in the cruiser. Absent that, they could and should have seen Dion and the cameraman as they scanned the restaurant, because they knew the men were there and were ensuring their safety and the safety of innocent citizens as they fired, or because they mistakenly believed the men to be fellow officers. They should have stopped firing after the suspect had his back to them and at while directly in the line of fire of Bryce Dion.

Visit our previous blog to see footage of the shooting and our attorneys discussing the case. This ABC News segment also provides details, footage, and recordings about the incident.

The City’s legal department argued the officers’ use of force was reasonable because the suspect did not surrender or drop his weapon, which despite being a pellet gun appeared to be real, and still posed a threat to the officers and those around him. Jorde argued that even if that may have been true for a moment in time, officers, as the City’s expert testified, must adapt to changing and dynamic situations and that above all else preserving innocent life, such as Bryce Dion, is the priority.

Failures to Protect & Other Claims

During a three-day bench trial that concluded on March 7th, our firm alleged the negligence of the City, the Omaha Police, and the Officers who fired the fatal shot constituted failures to meet legal obligations for taking reasonable steps to protect and assure the safety of Dion.

Our arguments included:

  • Although the City was motivated to invite COPS TV to Omaha to advance the reputation of its Police Department, it took not steps to plan for their arrival or the safety of its film crew;
  • The City failed to provide training or instructions to officers as to when film crews can and cannot accompany law enforcement on active crime scenes;
  • The lack of protocol to ensure all officers and personnel were adequately informed about the presence of the film crew at the scene;
  • The special relationship between COPS TV and the City gave rise to a duty to protect the film crew and a duty to control the conduct of its officers. Officers involved failed to meet this duty when they allowed the crew to enter a crime scene with a suspect, they believed, to be armed and dangerous, and when they failed to keep track of their whereabouts;
  • The officers’ use of an unreasonable amount of force when attempting to apprehend the suspect, especially as it related to firing potentially injurious shots near innocent bystanders.

A Pending Decision

During trial, our legal team questioned how OPD officers could have seen the suspect in a restaurant booth and a dark parking lot, but not Dion, who was found in the very booth where officers fired shots through the glass window at the suspect as he fled through the parking lot. We also questioned the defense’s expert, asking whether each of the 36 rounds fired by officers were “reasonable and appropriate,” and whether shots fired as the suspect fled were made in response to a reasonable threat.

The most important questions – which concern whether officers had a duty to protect Dion and used a reasonable amount of force, and whether the City of Omaha should be held liable for his death – will be answered by Douglas County District Judge Jim Masterller in the coming months. Our legal team will continue to provide updates as they are made available.

More About the Case

Domina Law Group is an Omaha-based Civil Trial Law Firm with a national reputation for fighting on behalf of the injured and the wronged and for our success in a range of complex and high profile cases. Learn more about our lawyers, what we do, or how we can help you by contacting us.

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