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NBC settles suit over suicide

Plaintiff's brother had shot himself during taping of 'Dateline.'

June 25, 2008|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — NBC Universal has "amicably resolved" a $105-million lawsuit filed by a woman whose brother committed suicide during a taping of its controversial "Dateline NBC" series "To Catch a Predator," both parties said Tuesday.

Bruce Baron, an attorney for Patricia Conradt, told the Los Angeles Times that "the matter has been amicably resolved to the satisfaction of both parties."

Conradt's brother, Louis William Conradt Jr., a 56-year-old assistant county prosecutor in a Dallas suburb, shot himself in November 2006 when officers showed up at his house as part of a pedophilia sting arranged by "Dateline."

Patricia Conradt sued NBC in July, claiming that the network interfered with police duties and then failed to protect her brother's safety.

When asked about the status of the suit, NBC News spokeswoman Jenny Tartikoff echoed Baron, saying, "The matter has been amicably resolved."

Both sides declined to comment about when they came to agreement or the terms of the resolution. A sealed document regarding the suit was filed with the court June 3, but the case remains open, according to a spokesman for the New York Southern District Court.

The resolution of the lawsuit caps a controversial chapter for "Dateline," which drew both ratings bonanzas and sharp critiques for its "To Catch a Predator" investigations. In the segments, which NBC began airing in 2004, the newsmagazine worked with an Internet watchdog group called Perverted Justice to contact men online who were seeking to meet children for sex, then lure them to a house, where they were confronted on camera. Police waiting outside then arrested the men.

Media ethicists objected to the deception used in the investigation, as well as NBC's close relationship with law enforcement agencies in the jurisdictions where it set up stings.

NBC News executives staunchly defended the "Predator" investigations but eventually concluded that the series had become too highly charged to continue. "Dateline" quietly aired its 12th and final installment of "Predator" in late December.

Louis Conradt was one of two dozen men in the Dallas-Fort Worth area snared by the ninth "Predator" sting in the fall of 2006.

He allegedly engaged in a sexually explicit online chat with a Perverted Justice member posing as a 13-year-old boy, and then an actor invited Conradt to meet him at a decoy house that NBC set up in Murphy, Texas.

But Conradt did not show up at the camera-rigged house, where "Dateline" correspondent Chris Hansen and local police were waiting, outfitted with cameras provided by NBC, Hansen later told Dallas-Fort Worth television station WFAA-TV, which conducted its own investigation into the incident.

The next day, a "Dateline" crew and a team of officers went to find Conradt at his home in a nearby town.

"Dateline" cameras taped the scene as a police tactical team forced its way into Conradt's house. As the officers entered, Conradt shot himself with a small-caliber semiautomatic handgun. He died at a nearby hospital.

The incident was featured in a "To Catch a Predator" segment that aired on "Dateline" in February 2007.

In her lawsuit, Patricia Conradt accused NBC of being "concerned more with its own profits than with pedophilia."

She claimed that a police officer at the scene of the shooting told a "Dateline" producer, "That'll make good TV."

The network said her suit was without merit.

But in February, U.S. District Judge Denny Chin ruled that the case could go forward on claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of civil rights.

Chin dismissed some causes of action but said in his ruling that the network "placed itself squarely in the middle of a police operation, pushing the police to engage in tactics that were unnecessary and unwise, solely to generate more dramatic footage for a television show."

"A reasonable jury could find that by doing so, NBC created a substantial risk of suicide or other harm, and that it engaged in conduct so outrageous and extreme that no civilized society should tolerate it," Chin wrote.

At the time, NBC said it planned to fight the claim, saying it had "acted responsibly and lawfully."

"Dateline's" Murphy sex sting failed to net any convictions.

The Collin County district attorney's office declined to pursue more than 20 cases related to the "Predator" operation, citing problems with the evidence gathered.

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matea.gold@latimes.com

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