MANHATTAN (CN) – A federal judge said a jury “could find that NBC crossed the line” when a TV crew and police gathered outside a prosecutor’s house, in order to film an episode of “To Catch a Predator,” with the result that the prosecutor shot himself dead.
The judge allowed the principal claims to stand against NBC Universal for the suicide death of assistant district attorney Louis Conradt Jr., who shot himself to death in Texas as an “NBC Dateline” crew stood outside his house with police, waiting to film his arrest.
Conradt’s sister sued NBC for $100 million, and U.S. District Judge Denny Chin let the “principal claims survive,” finding that a reasonable jury “could find that NBC crossed the line from responsible journalism to irresponsible and reckless intrusion into law enforcement.”
Conradt shot himself to death in his home on Nov. 5, 2006, “as he was about to be arrested by the police for attempting to solicit a minor online,” Judge Chin wrote. “Waiting outside the house were members of the cast and crew of the national television news show Dateline NBC. They were there to film Conradt’s arrest for a segment of ‘To Catch a Predator’ – a show that works with local police departments and an online ‘watchdog’ group called Perverted Justice to identify and arrest ‘sexual predators.’ Apparently unable to face the humiliation of the public spectacle that faced him, Conradt took his own life. …
“NBC argues, among other things, that it owed Conradt no duty to protect him from suicide and that neither it nor the police violated Conradt’s rights under the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. It alleges further that its alleged conduct was not ‘extreme and outrageous’ in the sense required under Texas law for a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
“Although many of plaintiff’s claims will be dismissed, the principal claims survive, for if the allegations of the amended complaint are proven, a reasonable jury could find that NBC crossed the line from responsible journalism to irresponsible and reckless intrusion into law enforcement. Rather than merely report on law enforcement’s efforts to combat crime, NBC purportedly instigated and then placed itself squarely in the middle of a police operation, pushing the police to engage in tactics that were unnecessary and unwise, solely to generate more dramatic footage for a television show. On the facts alleged in the amended complaint, for example, a reasonable jury could find that there was no legitimate law enforcement need for a heavily armed SWAT team to extract a 56-year-old prosecutor from his home when he was not accused of any actual violence and was not believed to have a gun, and that this was done solely ‘to sensationalize and enhance the entertainment value’ of the arrest. A reasonable jury could find that by doing so, NBC created a substantial risk of suicide or other harm, and that it engaged in conduct so outrageous and extreme that no civilized society should tolerate it.”