The midtown Omaha Wendy's restaurant that was the scene of a shootout that left two people dead Tuesday night reopened Friday morning.
The fast-food outlet at 43rd and Dodge streets is where police opened fire on 32-year-old Cortez Washington, suspected of robbing the restaurant while pointing a gun at the head of a cashier. According to witnesses, Washington fired at three officers who'd entered the restaurant with a cameraman and audio supervisor from the television show COPS. The officers returned fire, hitting Washington and the audio supervisor, 38-year-old Bryce Dion.
Washington's handgun turned out to be an Airsoft pellet gun. “The officers had no choice other than to respond in the way that they did," Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference.
The chief said the incident began to unfold at 9:05 p.m. 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. Officer Cunningham called for backup at the nearby Wendy's. Officers Brooks Riley and Jason Wilhelm arrived accompanied by the COPS crew, in town filming for an upcoming show.
“The first two audible shots were from Mr. Washington’s gun,” the chief said. The officers then returned fire. “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 said 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. “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. “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 the 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 said they're devastated. "Bryce has been with us for seven years and honestly, he is, he really is one of our best," said Morgan Langley. "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 had a week of filming left before they were scheduled to leave.