OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Two Omaha police officers will be charged with assault in the death last month of a mentally ill man who was shocked with a stun gun a dozen times, a Nebraska prosecutor said Wednesday.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine made the announcement in the case of two former officers who confronted 29-year-old Zachary Bearheels on June 5 at an Omaha convenience store. Scotty Payne and Ryan McClarty were fired from the Omaha Police Department this month based on the recommendation of police Chief Todd Schmaderer.
Kleine said he’s charging Payne with second-degree assault, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. He said he’s charging McClarty with third-degree assault, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison. Officials say Bearheels, a Native American from Oklahoma, died after being shocked 12 times with a Taser, punched and dragged by his hair by the officers, both of whom are black.
Asked why he didn’t charge the officers with murder or manslaughter, Kleine said, “there’s no evidence whatsoever that these officers intentionally killed Zachary Bearheels.” He also said that the coroner could not say for certain that the punching or shocks from the stun gun caused Bearheels’ death.
Police said they were responding to a call at a convenience store for a disturbance involving a person who was refusing to leave the store.
According to his family, Bearheels had mental illnesses and was lost in Omaha after being kicked off an interstate bus going from South Dakota to Oklahoma. Relatives believe Bearheels had stopped taking his medicine. His mother has told police and media in Omaha that her son was bipolar and schizophrenic.
Police say Bearheels was acting erratically and fought officers’ efforts to take him into custody outside the convenience store. After being shocked with a stun gun, Bearheels was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.