NBC has settled a lawsuit filed by the family of a man who killed himself after being confronted regarding his illicit communications with what he believed to be underage boys. The deceased also happened to be a 5 term district attorney and respected prosecutor in Texas. According to court documents, when the man did not show up to meet with a decoy who he thought to be a 13 year old boy, Dateline’s Chris Hansen and local authorities decided to go to the man’s house. Hansen convinced the police chief to get arrest and search warrants from a judge before they traveled to the man’s home an hour away. When they got to the man’s home, he did not answer the door for conventional police so a SWAT team was called and entered the home an hour later. Hansen waited outside while his cameramen and SWAT team members entered. Upon arriving in the house the man appeared in a hallway, told the police he was not going to hurt anyone and then proceeded to shoot himself. An officer informed Hansen by saying “that should be good TV.”
An episode of the show aired in February 2007 and dedicated approximately 1/3 of its coverage to the pursuit of the district attorney. In the segment, a police officer wonders aloud what could have been so bad on the man’s computer that he had to commit suicide. The officer also stated that the deceased’s secrets probably went much further than illicit internet chats with children.
The family then sued NBC for intentional infliction of emotional distress. After NBC’s motion to dismiss was denied because the judge felt that a jury might find that NBC’s actions met the standard for IIED, NBC and the man’s family decided to settle and put the case behind them.
It seems NBC was worried that their acts might be viewed as egregious by a jury and that the jury might think they were trying to go to extremes for good ratings. Alternatively maybe the jury would have found that a pedophile must have been hiding something and that NBC did not do anything wrong by taping a normal law enforcement sting. What is your opinion? Should NBC had settled the case, or should they have tried to take it to trial in hopes of being fully exonerated?