DETROIT (AP) — Police accompanied by a reality TV crew fired a stun grenade through a window as they raided a Detroit home in search of a murder suspect. A gunshot then went off inside, fatally striking a 7-year-old girl in the head while she slept on a couch.
Now, three years later, Officer Joseph Weekley goes on trial in the death of Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Jury selection starts Wednesday.
Weekley, charged with involuntary manslaughter, is accused of acting with gross negligence when he didn’t prevent his gun from firing during the chaos that followed the use of a “flash-bang” device.
The shooting shocked Detroit. Cooperation between police and the reality show, “The First 48,” was banned in the aftermath, and the chief soon resigned at the mayor’s request when it was revealed that he was working on plans for another TV show.
But beyond the city, there was little, if any, impact on the hunger for real-life police drama on the small screen. “Cops,” in its 25th year, still is on the air, moving from Fox to Spike TV this fall. “The First 48” has been on A&E Networks since 2004.
“They’re fascinating and compelling,” said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University.
“Everyone has built into them an inherent interest in encounters with police,” he said. “We know how our adrenaline gets going when we see that flashing light behind us when we’re going too fast on the highway. … Every now and again an incident happens, but it isn’t enough to trump the momentum this genre has.”
The loud, smoky device used in the Detroit raid is intended to startle and confuse people as officers swarm a scene. But some critics of the police department’s tactics believe it was used in the fatal raid simply to satisfy a crew from “The First 48,” a show that focuses on the crucial early stages of homicide investigations.
Weekley’s trial could reveal how the TV crew’s presence influenced decisions that May 2010 night.
“This was essentially a military assault on a private dwelling,” said Ron Scott, spokesman for a watchdog group, Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality. “I think the administration of the police department wanted to show Detroit was tough on crime and show something exciting for television.
“Police work is not television, and television work is not police work,” he said. “The two combined to make it a horrific night.”