After watching Cortez Washington spend the last decade in and out of Kansas and Missouri prisons, his family thought he finally was poised to turn his life around.
Within the last year, the 32-year-old Kansas City, Kan., native had been paroled, relocated to Omaha, Neb., gotten married, joined a church and found work as a temporary laborer.
Yet for some reason on Tuesday, he decided to rob a fast-food restaurant. As police moved in, he pointed a fake pistol at them, setting off a barrage of gunfire that killed him and a reality TV crew member — just an hour after Washington had shared a drink with his brother.
“I’ll be back,” he had told his brother, Wilford Washington of Omaha, before leaving that evening.
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Roughly an hour later, relatives received a phone call about the shooting.
Officers responding to the robbery call entered from two different doors and saw Cortez Washington pointing the fake pistol at them. It looked like a real Taurus handgun. They opened fire.
One bullet struck Bryce Dion, a crew member helping film the television show “Cops” who was wearing a bullet-resistant vest. He collapsed near a door.
Hit several times, Washington stumbled into the parking lot and collapsed.
Wilford Washington said he did not know why his brother held up the fast-food restaurant.
“I thought everything was going OK,” he said. “I didn’t see any signs of financial problems.”
Before moving to Omaha, Cortez Washington had accumulated a lengthy criminal record in Wyandotte County and on the Missouri side of the state line. In August 2011, he had pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery and was sentenced to seven years in a Missouri prison for holding up a Raymore jewelry store.
Washington was paroled in September 2013 after serving just over two years of his prison sentence and receiving credit for more than a year spent in jail awaiting trial.
Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd said it is not uncommon for some first-time, nonviolent offenders to be paroled after serving 15 percent of their prison term. In determining a prison sentence, Missouri law does not take into account prison time that a defendant served in other states, including neighboring Kansas.
Zahnd said the state legislators should consider revisiting the statute.
“A person can have gone to prison multiple times in another state and it would have no effect on the percentage of time they must serve in a Missouri prison,” he said.
Washington had been paroled nearly a year when Tuesday’s shootings happened.