OMAHA, Neb. — Omaha’s police chief is recommending the firing of two police officers involved in the death of a mentally ill man who had been beaten and shocked a dozen times by a stun gun in an altercation with officers.
Chief Todd Schmaderer said at a news conference Friday that he plans to fire two of four Omaha officers involved in the early Monday morning incident in which officers confronted Zachary Bearheels, 29, of Murdo, South Dakota.
Police say Bearheels, who has a history of mental illness, was acting erratically and fought officers’ efforts to take him into custody outside an Omaha convenience store. After being shocked with a stun gun, Bearheels was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Four officers — Jennifer Strudl, Makyla Mead, Scotty Payne and Ryan McClarty — have been placed on administrative leave. Schmaderer said legal policy kept him from naming which two officers he wants to fire. A mediator will accept or reject the chief’s recommendation to fire the officers, who have the right to appeal if the recommendation is accepted.
Schmaderer also said police video of the incident will not be released publicly until a grand jury has had a chance to investigate the death. Nebraska law requires a grand jury investigation any time a person dies in custody or while in the process of being arrested.
But Schmaderer offered a detailed account Friday of what appeared on police video, saying Payne used a stun gun on Bearheels when he fought officers’ attempts to put him in a police cruiser, and that McClarty had dragged Bearheels by his hair and hit him in the head several times, even after Bearheels was not resisting. The officers had planned to take Bearheels to a bus station so he could be reunited with family in South Dakota, Schmaderer said.
Bearheels was shocked 12 times, including times when he was not resisting, Schmaderer said.
The stun gun usage while Bearheels was handcuffed and in the back of a police cruiser “is against our policy and procedures and training and culture and the whole nine yards,” Schmaderer said.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine is considering whether to bring criminal charges against the officers involved.
Refresher training for dealing with the mentally ill will be required for all officers, Schmaderer said.
Final autopsy results are not back, but blunt force trauma has been ruled out as Bearheels’ cause of death, Schmaderer said.