The family of Zachary Bearheels, a mentally-ill Native man who died while in police custody on June 5, say they are left with ‘many questions’ concerning his death. According to police and newspaper reports, Bearheels was punched in the head several times and suffered through 12 electric shocks from a taser during an encounter with local law enforcement in Omaha, Nebraska.
In an exclusive statement to Indian Country Media Network, the family of Zachary Bearheels, 29, say they want to know if the Omaha Police made any attempts to help Bearheels, who suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
“We have many questions surrounding Zach’s death,” the statement reads,”such as how did the Omaha law enforcement, who are first responders, assist him in his mentally-ill condition—and what was the cause of his death? These questions, and many more, are crucial to our healing and closure.”
Two weeks after Bearheels’ death, the Omaha Police have admitted they “failed” and will be “recommending the termination of employment two of the officers” involved in the incident, Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said at a press conference.
Schmaderer said he could not legally release the names of the two officers who could be fired, but the department did release the name of the four officers involved: Jennifer Strudl, who has been with the department for three years, two months; Makyla Mead, four years, 10 months; Scotty Payne, four years, 10 months; Ryan McClarty, who is approaching two years with the department.
Schmaderer said there was one officer on the scene who was “specially trained” in crisis intervention and had “advanced training on how to deal with the mentally ill.”
In a press release sent to ICMN, the Omaha Police said Zachary Bearheels was traveling on June 4 from South Dakota to Oklahoma City, but following a complaint from a passenger Bearheels was not permitted on the bus and was left stranded in Omaha.
Police responded to a report of a man “licking windows” at local business there. According to a timeline of events, Omaha Police allegedly provided Bearheels with water “and repeatedly offered medical attention and asked if he wanted to be taken to a shelter. Mr. Bearheels drank the water and became agitated.” Police then released Bearheels without incident, according to reports.
Renita Chalepah, Bearheel’s mother, called police to report her son missing and told them he suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Nearly two hours later, according to the timeline, police were dispatched to a gas station in response to a disturbance where a man allegedly refused to leave.
Police then apprehended Bearheels and tased him, administering 12 electric shocks, even as he did not resist arrest and sat handcuffed against a wheel of a police cruiser. The electric shocks lasted five seconds each, The Omaha World-Herald reported.
The Omaha Police admitted in its report that the actions taken against Bearheels were “egregious violations” against the department’s training.
An autopsy of Bearheels was completed June 5, but the cause of death has not been released, according to the Omaha Police. The results of the autopsy will determine if charges will be filed against the officers involved in the incident, Schmaderer said at a press conference.
Culture Editor Simon Moya-Smith contributed to this report.