NEW YORK (Reuters) - A $100 million lawsuit claiming that NBC prompted the suicide of a former Texas prosecutor who was caught up in its popular sting series “To Catch a Predator” is moving ahead after a ruling by a U.S. federal judge on Tuesday.
Louis Conradt, a 56-year-old assistant district attorney, shot himself in November 2006 after he was confronted at his Terrell, Texas, home by police officers. They were accompanied by an NBC news crew that was there to film his arrest.
“To Catch a Predator,” a segment of NBC’s “Dateline” newsmagazine program, lures men to a house with hidden cameras in the belief that they are about to have sexual relations with underage girls or boys. There, they are confronted by the program’s host and promptly arrested. In Conradt’s case, he was expecting to meet up with a 13-year-old boy.
Critics of the show say it is a form of entrapment, and they have questioned NBC’s partnership on the series with an online vigilante group called Perverted-Justice.
Conradt’s sister, Patricia Conradt, sued the network, saying “Dateline” was responsible for his death and the harm to his reputation. She grew up in the house where Conradt committed suicide.
U.S. District Judge Denny Chin, while dismissing some causes of action, said certain key claims in the complaint can proceed to trial, according to a 40-page ruling.
Chin let the case go forward on claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of civil rights, saying if the allegations were 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,” the opinion read, “pushing the police to engage in tactics that were unnecessary and unwise, solely to generate more dramatic footage for a television show.”
A spokeswoman for NBC, which is majority-owned by General Electric Co, said the company will continue to defend itself vigorously.
“We think the evidence will ultimately show that ‘Dateline’ acted responsibly and lawfully,” spokeswoman Jenny Tartikoff said in an e-mailed statement. “The judge’s ruling was based solely on the plaintiff’s version of the facts. For purposes of this motion only, the judge was required, under the law, to accept the plaintiff’s allegations as true.”
NBC had argued that it owed Conradt no duty to protect him from suicide, according to the ruling.