Two Police Officers Are Charged in Assault of Mentally Ill Man

“After Mr. Bear-heels’s death, the Omaha police chief, Todd Schmaderer, said that the department had “failed” and that officers would receive additional training. A police spokesman said on Wednesday that the chief was not available to comment.”–The New York Times

Or as Bob Dylan put it in the last line of “Oxford Town”: “Somebody better ‘vestigate soon.”

Thanks to Dj Jaffe for originally posting this.

via The New York Times

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Ryan McClarty, left, and Scotty Payne, former Omaha police officers, were charged. CreditOmaha Police Department

Two former police officers in Nebraska were charged with assault after beating and using a Taser on a mentally ill man as they tried to take him into custody for “erratic behavior” in Omaha last month, an official said on Wednesday. The man later died.

The Douglas County attorney, Donald W. Kleine, said in a televised news conference that Scotty Payne, a five-year veteran, faces charges of felony second-degree assault for repeatedly shocking the man, Zachary Bear-heels, 29, with a Taser on June 5.

Ryan McClarty, who has been on the force for two years, was charged with misdemeanor assault for punching Mr. Bear-heels, Mr. Kleine said.

“Zachary Bear-heels had committed no crime,” Mr. Kleine said. “He was simply a human being suffering from severe mental illness that was quite obvious to anyone who was in contact with him.”

Asked why the former officers had not been charged with murder or manslaughter, he said, “There is no evidence whatsoever that these officers intentionally killed Mr. Bear-heels.” He said the coroner’s office ruled that Mr. Bear-heels’s death was caused by “excited delirium.”

Attorney Don Kleine to files assault charges against 2 officers Video by KETV NewsWatch 7

“That is something we had a question about,” Mr. Kleine said, referring to possible tougher charges. But he said his office could find no “approximate cause” linking the officers’ actions to the cause of death — such as the use of the Taser, or the blows, which did not result in “brain bleed” or contusions to the brain, he said.

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The funeral of Zachary Bear-heels in Apache, Oklahoma, in June.

The officers were fired Friday, after the Omaha Police Department investigated the episode.

Mr. Payne, 38, is due to turn himself in on Friday for a bail hearing, and Mr. McClarty, 27, will be cited on suspicion of third-degree assault, Mr. Kleine said.

Matthew D. Burns, a lawyer for Mr. Payne, said his client was “devastated” and “feels terrible because a person lost his life.”

Mr. McClarty’s lawyer could not immediately be reached.

Mr. Kleine said he was filing the charges before a grand jury being called to look into the case, which has attracted concern from Mr. Bear-heels’s Native American community. The felony assault charge carries up to 20 years in prison — the same as manslaughter — and the other charge can carry up to one year in prison, a $1,000 fine or both.

According to a police statement, the episode started on June 3, when Mr. Bear-heels was taking a bus from Murdo, S.D., to Oklahoma City. He was dropped off at a station in Omaha and was not allowed to re-board because a passenger had complained about his behavior.

On June 4, Mr. Bear-heels’s mother, Renita Chalepah, called the Omaha Police Department to report that her son was missing and that he was bipolar and had schizophrenia. On June 5, officers were called to a gas station because of a disturbance and found a man, later identified as Mr. Bear-heels, dancing in front of the convenience store and refusing to leave, according to the police.

Officers on the scene spoke to his mother about where to take him. But after he was placed into a cruiser in handcuffs for “erratic behavior,” he tried to leave the vehicle, and four officers, including Officer Payne and Officer McClarty, tried to restrain him and force him back into the car.

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Zachary Bear-heels, who died after an encounter with Omaha police officers. CreditKETV NewsWatch 7, via YouTube 

After a struggle, Officer Payne shouted, “Taser, Taser,” and warned Mr. Bear-heels three more times that the Taser would be used, the statement said.

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Mr. Bear-heels’s grave in Apache, Okla. CreditKent Sievers/The World-Herald

Officer Payne then discharged the device, which struck Mr. Bear-heels in the abdomen and right thigh. The officer continued to activate the device as it clung to Mr. Bear-heels, who resisted being dragged into the vehicle. As Mr. Bear-heels was propped up in a sitting position against the car, he stopped resisting, the police statement said, but Officer Payne kept using the Taser on him over the next one minute 45 seconds.

“You’re gonna get it again,” the police statement quoted the officer as saying.

“These are egregious violations of the Omaha Police Department’s policy, procedures and training on use of force and the use of a Taser,” the statement said.

After Mr. Bear-heels managed to slip a hand out of the cuffs, swung his arms and kicked out with his legs, Officer McClarty punched him in the head and neck area multiple times while Officer Payne used the Taser again — making it about 12 times that he used the device on Mr. Bear-heels, the police statement said.

Part of the encounter was caught on a dashboard camera of a police vehicle and shown during the news conference.

After more police officers arrived to help, Mr. Bear-heels was handcuffed to a gurney. Medics then said he had stopped breathing and had no pulse. Mr. Bear-heels was pronounced dead in the hospital, the police said.

After Mr. Bear-heels’s death, the Omaha police chief, Todd Schmaderer, said that the department had “failed” and that officers would receive additional training. A police spokesman said on Wednesday that the chief was not available to comment.

One woman, a member of the Native American community who attended the news conference, tearfully spoke up about her fears for her own mentally ill son. “We are people, too,” she said.

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