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Mentally Ill Man Shocked 12 Times With A Stun Gun While Handcuffed, Dies

Zachary N. Bearheels was handcuffed and shocked 12 times by a stun gun wielded by an Omaha police officer in the early morning on June 5. He was pronounced dead at 2:16 a.m.

The 29-year-old Native American man, who has a history of mental illness, was on his way home when the incident occurred.

According to Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer, the incident began the night before Bearheels was repeatedly shocked. Bearheels arrived in Omaha arrived in Omaha by a bus coming from South Dakota, with his final destination as Oklahoma City where his mother lived. He was not able to board his next bus because of a complaint from another passenger and his “conduct”, so he left the station.

His mother called the Omaha police station to inform them that her son, presumed missing, suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Officers found him outside of a gas station convenience store at about 12:40 a.m. after they were called in to respond to reports that he was refusing to leave the premises. When they arrived, Bearheels was reportedly dancing out in front of the store.

He appeared impaired and his speech was garbled, and when he was asked to identify himself, he approached one of the officers with his arms raised. He was then handcuffed due to his “erratic behavior”, but was told that the officers would take him wherever he needed to go.

Bearheels’ mother, Renita Chalepah, was then contacted by the Omaha Police Department, who spoke with her son while he was being held in custody. She was able to identify that he had not been taking his medications by the way he spoke with her.

“I heard him say ‘Mama, mama,’” she told the Omaha World-Herald. “And then another voice.”

The officers and Bearheels’ mother agreed that he should be taken to the bus station, but when an officer opened the door of the police car to put on Bearheels’ seatbelt, he jumped out of the vehicle and resisted attempts to keep him in custody. Officer McClarty arrives as backup on the scene, and each officer grabbed a limb to carry him back to the cruiser, but Bearheels was able to struggle free.

According to Schmaderer, Officer Payne then shouted, “Taser, Taser,” as a warning to Bearheels before discharging the stun gun. Officer McClarty then grabbed Bearheels by the waistband and ponytail and dragged him back to the cruiser.

Bearheels sat, without resisting, on the ground at the rear of the car, but Officer McClarty continued to discharge electricity into Bearheels using the stun gun.

Bearheels managed to free his left hand from the handcuffs, and kicked and swung his arms at Officer McClarty, who in turn punched him in the head and attempted to put him in a neck restraint.

Medics arrived on the scene at approximately 1:50 a.m. after Bearheels had been shocked 12 times, and reported that he did not have a pulse and had stopped breathing. He was transported to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

“In this incident, despite our extensive training, we failed,” Schmaderer said. “The Omaha Police Department made a mistake on this occasion, and we’re doing whatever we need to [do] correct it.”

The police chief recommended that two of the four officers involved in the incident, Ryan McClarty, Scott Payne, Makyla Mead and Jennifer Strudl, be fired, but did not identify the two specifically.

However, the Omaha World-Herald reported that the police chief was looking to fire the officer wielding the stun gun, Payne, and the officer who dragged and punched Bearheels, McClarty. The other two officers involved in the incident were placed on paid administrative leave while the internal investigation is ongoing.

“He was trying to come home,” Mitchell Chalepah, Bearheel’s younger brother, told KETV. “That was it. He just wanted to come home.”

This is not the first time a death has been tied to the Omaha Police Department in the past few years.

Back in 2014, Bryce Dion, a 38-year-old sound supervisor for the television show ‘COPS’, was shot and killed when three officers responded to a robbery at a local fast food chain in downtown Omaha. The suspect reportedly fired multiple shots from what was later revealed to be an airsoft gun at the officers, who returned fire. The suspect was injured, but managed to run out of the restaurant before collapsing in the parking lot. Bryce was hit by a bullet in his armpit, where his bulletproof did not provide any protection. He was taken to the University of Nebraska Medical Center, where he died from his injuries.

In 2015, 39-year-old Daniel Elrod was shot and killed when officers responded to a robbery at a local variety store chain. Officers reportedly shouted at Elrod to show his hands and get down on the ground, which he did not do. Instead, Elrod climbed on top of the hood of a nearby vehicle and continued to ignore orders issued by the police. A stun gun was used, but was ineffective. An officer then shot Elrod multiple times. He was taken to the Nebraska Medical Center, where he died from his injuries.

However, Amanda Elrod, Elrod’s wife, disputed the officer’s report of the incident. According to her, there was little time between when the officers pulled up and when they fatally shot her husband.

<blockquote> "I saw the police pulled up, and as soon as they pulled up they yelled something," Amanda Elrod said. "And then I heard pop, pop, pop… There was no time in between where they said anything about being armed or, 'Drop your weapon,' or freeze, stop right there, nothing." </blockquote>

Domina Law Group attorneys David Domina and Brian Jorde are currently representing the families of Dion and Elrod. If you are interested in reaching out to either of these attorneys, give us a call at (888) 387-4134 or send us your information through our online form here.

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