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Omaha Police release in-custody taser death timeline

Posted: 6:36 PM, Jun 09, 2017
Updated: 2017-06-09 20:17:22-04
Omaha Police release in-custody taser death timeline

Omaha Police have provided a timeline of events leading up to the in-custody death of 29-year-old Zachary Bearheels. 

SATURDAY JUNE 3

11:35 p.m.: Bearheels arrived in Omaha at 16th and Jackson streets. He was traveling by bus from Murdo, S.D., to Oklahoma City. His conduct and a complaint from another passenger resulted in Bearheels not being allowed to board the departure bus. He is seen on video leaving the bus station at 11:50 p.m. 

SUNDAY JUNE 4

3:50 p.m.: Officers responded to a call at a business located at 6307 Center St., to check the well-being of a male who was licking windows. The officers located Bearheels and learned he recently arrived in Omaha. He was described as talking quietly and appeared to be dehydrated. Officers gave him water, and repeatedly offered medical attention and asked whether he wanted to be taken to a shelter. Bear-heels drank the water and became agitated. The officers said he appeared to be under the influence of drugs and mentally ill. The officers had no lawful reason to detain Bearheels, and he was allowed to leave the area. 

10:28 p.m.: Renita Chalepah called the Omaha Police Department to report her son, Zachary Bearheels, missing. She said he was traveling from Murdo, S.D., to Oklahoma City and that he was last seen at the bus station on 1 a.m.  She also told the officer her son has schizophrenia and is bi-polar.

MONDAY JUNE 5 

12:36 a.m.: Omaha Police officers Makyla Mead and Jennifer Strudl were dispatched to the Bucky’s gas station located at 60th and Center streets for a call of a disturbance and someone refusing to leave.

12:40 a.m.: Officer Strudl arrived at Bucky’s and saw a man, later identified as Bearheels, dancing in front of the store. Officer James Mosby was in the area and stopped to assist. Officer Strudl’s cruiser camera was recording and captured various portions of this incident. Audio of the entire incident was recorded, however, the audio is not always clearly heard or discernible.

Officers Strudl and Mosby made contact with Bearheels and attempted to obtain his identification and the reason why he was at Bucky’s. The officers said Bearheels’ speech was garbled and that he displayed signs of impairment. When asked for identification, the officers said he suddenly raised his hands to his head and stepped towards Officer Strudl.

12:41 a.m.: Bearheels' erratic behavior led officers to place him in handcuffs, without incident.

12:43 a.m.: Officer Mead arrived. At this point, the officers were still unable to determine Bearheels’ name or address.

12:51 a.m.: Because Bearheels was secured in handcuffs and not posing any risk, Officer Mosby left this call to go to another location to assist other officers. 

12:54 a.m.: Officers Mead and Strudl placed Bearheels into the back seat of Officer Strudl’s cruiser while they determined how to proceed. As they placed him in the cruiser, Officer Strudl told him they would take him to where he wanted to go. The officers located identification for Bearheels, and a records check revealed he had been reported missing.  Officer Strudl consulted with Sgt. Erik Forehead to determine what course of action to take; he determined there was insufficient justification to detain Bearheels or place him in emergency protective custody.

1:03 a.m.: Officer Strudl called Chalepah. During their 23-minute phone conversation, they discussed options for Bear-heels. At one point, Officer Strudl attempted to have Bearheels talk to his mother, but his speech was unintelligible. Chalepah told her son she was trying to get him home. She then requested her son be placed in a Crisis Center until she could get to Omaha to pick him up. Officer Mead called Sgt. Forehead and was told there was still no justification to hold Bearheels, and agreed Bearheels could be taken to the bus station, as requested by his mother. 

1:27 a.m.: Officer Scotty Payne arrived, and Officer Strudl told Bearheels she was taking him to the bus station.

1:30 a.m.: Officer Strudl opened the cruiser door to put the seat-belt on Bearheels, and he immediately came out of the cruiser. Officer Strudl directed him to stay in the car and to stop but was unable to prevent him from getting out of the cruiser. He started to walk away from the three officers. Officers Strudl, Payne, and Mead struggled to maintain control of Bearheels. They attempted to return him to the cruiser, but were unsuccessful, and pinned him up against an outdoor display of bottled water.   

1:32 a.m.: The officers radioed for backup, but their request was lost in radio traffic for a pursuit that just started in the city. While pinned against the water display, they encouraged him to cooperate and get back in the cruiser.

1:35 a.m.: Officer Ryan McClarty arrived. The cruiser camera recorded and captured various portions of this incident.  Audio of the incident was recorded as well. The four officers tried to move Bearheels to the cruiser, and a struggle ensued. Officer McClarty pulled Bearheels to the ground and held him down as Officer Payne warned him he would be tased. The officers, each holding one of Bearheels' limbs, attempted to carry him to the cruiser. Immediately upon lifting him off the ground, he broke free and landed on his feet, his hands still cuffed behind his back. The officers, unable to control him, disengaged. 

Officer Payne shouted “Taser! Taser!" and Bearheels replied with an expletive. Officer Payne warned him two more times he would be tased as the other officers told him he needed to go to the car. He was warned a third time that he would be tased.

Officer McClarty closed in on Bearheels, and grabbed him. Another struggle took place, and Bearheels again broke away from the officers.

1:38 a.m.: Officer Payne again shouted “Taser! Taser! Taser!” and discharged his electronic control device (ECD), more commonly known as a Taser, at Bear-heels. The Taser probes struck Bearheels in the abdomen and right thigh but did not effectively incapacitate him.

Officer McClarty then pulled Bearheels to the ground, grabbed his ponytail and waistband, and began to drag him to the cruiser. Officer Mead grabbed Bearheels’ right arm to help get him to the cruiser. Officer McClarty transitioned from holding Mr. Bear-heels by the ponytail to holding him by his left arm. Taser probes were still attached to Bearheels, and Officer Payne continued to activate the Taser.  Bearheels was placed on the ground in a seated position, his back against the rear tire of the cruiser. The right rear passenger door was still open, allowing the interior cruiser camera to capture video of the aforementioned and following events.

For the next 1 minute and 45 seconds, Bearheels sat on the ground with his legs out in front of him and offered no resistance. During this time, Officer Payne activated the Taser three times. The first activation was unprovoked. After the Taser completed the five second cycle, Officer Payne stepped towards Bearheels, stood over him and said, “You’re gonna get it again.” When the next two activations occurred, Bearheels did not offer resistance other than minor movements of his feet and legs but posed no threat to the officers.

1:40 a.m.: Still seated, Bearheels pulled his left hand out of the handcuffs and quickly turned towards Officer McClarty. Bearheels swung his arms and kicked his legs at Officer McClarty, and the officer hit his head with fists and attempted a neck restraint. The officer then top mounted Bearheels and delivered multiple fist strikes to his head. While Officer McClarty delivered these strikes, Officer Payne activated his Taser.

At this time, one of the officers radioed for cars to expedite to their location, as officers struggled to get handcuffs back on Bearheels.

1:42 a.m.: Officer Payne radioed for a command officer and a rescue squad due to the Taser deployment.  While the officers waited for assistance, they continued to pin him down to the ground and against the rear wheel of the cruiser. Bearheels continued to struggle and can be heard making noises and yelling.

1:45 a.m.: Sgt.Forehead arrived on scene and helped secure handcuffs on Bearheels. Several more officers arrived within the next 1-2 minutes, relieving some of the original officers, as Bearheels continued to struggle.  Flex cuffs were utilized to prevent him from kicking officers.

1:49 a.m.: Omaha Fire and Rescue personnel arrived. Bearheels was then placed on a gurney, his hands cuffed to the rails. Omaha Fire Medics advised officers that Bearheels had stopped breathing and did not have a pulse.

2:02 a.m.: Omaha Medics transported Bearheels to Nebraska Medicine while performing CPR. Upon arrival at the hospital, Bearheels was not breathing and did not have a pulse.

2:16 a.m.: Bearheels was pronounced deceased.

TUESDAY JUNE 6

An autopsy was completed. The cause of death is pending further investigation and toxicology results, but authorities have said blunt-force trauma was not the preliminary cause of death.