Two police officers responsible for administering electric shocks to a handcuffed mentally ill man during an arrest in which he was also beaten and dragged across the ground by his ponytail should be fired, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said.
At a press conference on Friday, Schmaderer identified the officers involved in the death of 29-year-old Zachary N. Bearheels as Scott Payne, Ryan McClarty, Jennifer Strudl and Makyla Mead. He called for the termination of two of them though he did not specify which ones.
The cops had responded to a gas station during the early morning hours of June 5 after receiving a report that a man was acting erratic and refused to leave the area.
According to police, Bearheels first interacted with officers on the night of June 3 after he arrived in Omaha on a bus from Myrtle, South Dakota on his way to Oklahoma City to see his mother. A complaint from a passenger prevented him from boarding the bus however, and he left the station.
Bearheels’ mother, Renita Chalepah, called Omaha police the following night to report that her son was missing and told officers that he suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
It was about two hours later at 12:40 a.m. that police responded to the call at the gas station and found Bearheels dancing in front of the store. Officers said his speech was “garbled” and he appeared impaired.
When the cops asked him for ID, he raised his hands and moved in the direction of one of the officers, police said. This prompted the officers to handcuffed Bearheels. They then reportedly offered to give him a ride to where he needed to go.
According to reports, the cops allowed Bearheels to contact Chalepah, who spoke to him over the phone while he was detained. His mother said she could tell by speaking to him that he had not been taking his medications.
It was ultimately agreed that the officers would take Bearheels to the bus station. When an officer attempted to open the door to the police cruiser to put a seat belt on him however, Bearheels reportedly got out of the vehicle.
Bearheels resisted officers’ attempts to keep him in custody and was subsequently shocked with a stun gun. According to police, Officer McClarty grabbed Bearheels’ ponytail and dragged him back to the police car after the electric shocks failed to incapacitate him.
Officials said Bearheels was shocked a total of 12 times in a matter of minutes by Officer Payne. While the shocks were being administered, McClarty also reportedly punched Bearheels repeatedly in the head and attempted to put him in a neck restraint.
By 1:50 a.m. Bearheels had stopped breathing and didn’t have a pulse. He was tended to by paramedics and then taken to Nebraska Medical Center where he was pronounced dead at 2:16 a.m.
Following the incident, an internal investigation was launched by the Omaha Police Department and all four of the officers involved were placed on administrative leave pending the probe’s outcome.
At Friday’s press conference, Chief Schmaderer said the cops violated department “policies, procedures, training and culture. . . the whole nine yards,” especially pertaining to how the stun gun was deployed. He said it should not have been used any more than three times.
Though Schmaderer didn’t identify which two officers he wants fired, it has been reported that he wants Payne and McClarty gone. This would make logical sense as it was those two who did the most damage to Bearheels leading up to his death.
Bearheels’ final autopsy results have not been made available to the public. According to Schmaderer, blunt force trauma has been ruled out as the preliminary cause of death.
Meanwhile, in accordance with Nebraska state law, a grand jury is set to review the officers’ use of force in the case. Depending on the evidence however, Douglas County prosecutors may decide to go ahead and file charges without going through a grand jury proceeding.
According to Schmaderer, dashboard cameras recorded various parts of the confrontation involving Bearheels but the footage will not be released publicly until after it is decided whether or not the cops will be criminally charged.
“On this call seemingly no one took charge and our training and policies were not followed and a tragic outcome was the result,” Schmaderer said. “The Omaha Police Department made a mistake on this occasion, and we’re doing whatever we need to correct it.”