Reality TV Show Filmed While 7-Year-Old Killed in Detroit Police Raid

Questions raised about the role of TV show taping during Detroit police killing.

ByERIC HORNG via logo
May 23, 2010, 12:33 PM

May 23, 2010 — -- There is outrage in Detroit after a funeral for a 7-year-old girl who was shot in the neck and killed by police in a raid on her family's home. The whole time, a reality TV crew following the police was filming right outside.

Aiyana Stanley-Jones' death on May 16 has raised questions about how much access reality TV crews should have to law enforcement and whether they played a role in this incident.

Aiyana died as police hunted a murder suspect at the home where she slept. After lobbing a flash grenade into the house, police say an officer entered and collided with Aiyana's grandmother, causing the officer's gun to go off. The bullet struck Aiyana as she slept on a living room sofa.

"It's just sad to see such a waste for no reason," said Charles Jones, Aiyana's father. "They [are] supposed to be trained for this type of stuff. They came in and killed my baby."

A camera crew shadowing officers that night in Detroit was filming an episode of the A&E police reality show, "The First 48."

The incident is being investigated, but already, Aiyana's family has filed suit, challenging the police version of events and claiming the video shows the fatal shot was fired "intentionally" by the officer from "outside" of the house.

Two lawsuits against the Detroit Police Department allege excessive force, the violation of Aiyana's civil rights, negligence, assault and battery, infliction of emotional distress and conspiracy to cover up the shooting.

"This type of activity by a police force is unacceptable in America," said Geoffrey Fieger, the attorney representing Aiyana's family. "What is equally unacceptable is the cover up that has occurred since the time of Aiyana's passing."

The Rev. Al Sharpton, of the political and human rights National Action Network, spoke at Aiyana's funeral, which drew mourners by the hundreds.

"Do they throw these flash grenades in everybody's neighborhoods?" Sharpton asked. "Would you have gone in [affluent Detroit area] Bloomfield Hills and did what you did?"

Investigation Will Focus on TV Reality Show Filming When Girl Shot and Killed

The shooting has put a spotlight on police reality shows, which have long been seen as a win-win collaboration.

Reality shows such as "Cops" and "The First 48" can draw sizable ratings while giving police departments positive PR.

But do the shows capture drama or create it?

"The presence of cameras is going to influence a police officer the same way it would influence an ordinary person," said Hal Niedzviecki, author of "The Peep Diaries," which chronicles how people have become addicted to watching themselves and watching others.

"They are not immune to the lights and action and excitement," Niedzviecki said. "They're going to hype up how they're acting."

Police officers and their advocates have suggested the presence of cameras also can help potential victims.

"I don't see someone doing anything outlandish for the camerasbecause it's more of a liability for us," Detroit officer BrandonCole told The Associated Press this week.

A&E and its production partner ITV are not commenting on the case.

An official with the Michigan State Police, which has taken over the investigation, said in a statement this past week that it is advising the Detroit police to decline comment because Aiyana's family has retained legal counsel.

Nevertheless, Detroit Police Chief Warren Evans issued a statement May 18.

"I want to say to the entire Jones family, Aiyana's loved ones and friends, how terribly sorry I am for your loss. I have children and grandchildren and cannot comprehend losing one of them, especially under such painful circumstances," he said. "I will never be able to put myself in your shoes."

The video is now in the hands of investigators hoping to make sense of the tragedy.

ABC News' Tahman Bradley in Detroit contributed to this report.

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