NEW YORK – In the "Dateline NBC: To Catch a Predator" show, men accused of having explicit online chats with people they think are underage children go to a house to meet them, where TV cameras, host Chris Hansen and police await.
Louis William Conradt Jr., of Terrell, Texas, a Dallas suburb, was suspected of being one of those men, except he didn't show up at the house. That didn't stop the TV producers and police from showing up at his, though, and as officers knocked on his door and a camera crew waited in the street, Conradt shot and killed himself.
His sister, Patricia Conradt, sued NBC Universal Inc. in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on Monday for $105 million, accusing it of taking over police duties and then failing to protect her brother.
In the lawsuit, Patricia Conradt accused NBC Universal of engaging in a pattern of racketeering activity by bribing police across the country to let it film encounters with suspects it lures to a home where it has set up cameras.
She said in the lawsuit NBC "steam-rolled" police to arrest her brother after telling police he failed to show up at the rigged house 35 miles away.
She said her brother was unable to defend himself when police, NBC employees and associates swarmed his yard, creating a relationship between NBC and her brother similar to the relationship a prison guard has with an inmate.
"The suicide was reasonably foreseeable," her lawsuit said. "At this time, the defendant wore the robe of a state official and Bill wore the shackles of a detainee. Having trespassed and invaded upon Bill's property to broadcast a spectacle to millions, the defendant took no more steps toward protecting him than are received by a gladiator or bull."
A spokeswoman for NBC Universal, Jenny Tartikoff, said: "We have not yet received the lawsuit, but we plan to defend ourselves vigorously as we believe the claims in the suit to be completely without merit."
NBC and Perverted Justice have filmed similar operations in other cities, and the network has said the show did not have the same problems elsewhere.
The lawsuit said Conradt Jr., 57, an assistant county prosecutor, shot himself after he was accused of engaging in a sexually explicit online chat with an adult posing as a 13-year-old boy. It said a police officer at the scene of the shooting told a "Dateline" producer: "That'll make good TV."
In the lawsuit, Patricia Conradt said NBC was "concerned more with its own profits than with pedophilia."
Conradt Jr. became a target in a program in which NBC and the activist group Perverted Justice set up shop for four days last November in a two-story home in Murphy, Texas. Perverted Justice staff posed as boys and girls online and arranged to meet men there.
Two dozen men were arrested, but the district attorney refused to prosecute any of them, saying many of the cases were tainted by the involvement of amateurs and that he lacked jurisdiction in most cases because neither the suspects nor decoys were in the county during the online chats. The city manager was fired for approving the arrangement without telling the mayor or the city council.