On June 5, Zachary N. Bearheels was en route from South Dakota to visit his mother in Oklahoma City when he was stopped by police outside a gas station in Omaha, NE. There, Bearheels—whose mother claims suffered from manic depression and schizophrenia—was reportedly Tasered a dozen times and punched multiple times in the head while being loaded into the back of a police vehicle. Half an hour after medics arrived on the scene, Bearheels was dead.
Now, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer is recommending that two of the four officers involved in Bearheels’ death be fired from the force.
Offering “sincere condolences” to Bearheels’ family, Schmaderer spoke with reporters on June 9, naming Scott Payne, Ryan McClarty, Jennifer Strudl, and Makyla Mead as the officers involved in the incident. He declined to specify which of the four he wanted gone from the department, and clarified that the official cause of Bearheels’ death remains to be seen, pending final autopsy results. (The city’s Human Resources Department has to approve the firings before Schmaderer can act.)
“On this call seemingly no one took charge and our training and policies were not followed,” Schmaderer explained. “A tragic outcome was the result.”
The circumstances of Bearheels’ death only serve to heighten the tragedy of the case.
According to the Washington Post, Bearheels, 29, had arrived in Omaha two days earlier by bus, but had not been allowed to continue to Oklahoma City, due to complaints from a fellow passenger. Bearheels’ mother, Renita Chalepah, called the Omaha Police Department the following evening, telling them that her son was both missing and mentally ill. Early the next morning, police found Bearheels acting erratically outside a local gas station, and after calling Chalepah, agreed to drive him to the bus station. However, Bearheels began resisting the officer’s efforts to put him in the back seat of their car, and after leaving the vehicle several times, was Tasered and dragged back into the car, where officers continued to use the stun gun, as well as strike him.
“The Omaha Police Department made a mistake on this occasion,” Schmaderer told reporters. “We’re doing whatever we need to correct it.”
In a statement, the ACLU of Nebraska praised the OPD for having made its Taser use policy public following a 2014 report. But it added:
Unfortunately, the policy does not have clear written guidelines for use of a Taser on people experiencing a mental health crisis, people using medication to address mental health issues, or people under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These and other populations are at increased risk of death or serious injury when Tased.
In a Facebook message, Bearheels’ brother, Mitchell Chalepah, demanded an immediate response and prison sentences for all the officers involved in the incident.
“They took my brother’s life away,” he wrote. “He was just trying to come home, that’s all. He just wanted to come home. (I) want JUSTICE for my big brother.”
According to the Omaha World-Herald, police footage of Bearheels’ death exists. Schmaderer promised during his press conference that “the video and audio will come out to the public.” The World-Herald reported that this will only happen as part of a criminal case or following a grand jury decision.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine told the paper that he was waiting for a final autopsy result and a full police report to determine whether or not to pursue charges.