Omaha, NE — Two former police officers are now facing charges for their role in the horrific death of a mentally ill man after dashcam video shows them deploying a taser on him numerous times, and then punching him until he died.
The charges stem from a confrontation on June 5, in which Officers Makyla Mead and Jennifer Strudl were called to investigate a disturbance at a local gas station. Upon arrival, they approached Zachary Bearheels and initiated contact with him, quickly placing him in handcuffs.
The officers contacted his mother, who then prepared to put him on a bus back to his home in Oklahoma. While seated in the back of the police cruiser, around 1:30 a.m., Bearheels became restless and slipped out of the police cruiser through the door, which had been left open.
That is when two other officers who had arrived at the scene, Ryan McClarty and Scotty Payne, arguably treated Bearheels as more of a criminal suspect than a mentally ill man who wandered away from the safety of his home. It was reported Bearheels had been wandering the streets of Omaha for days.
When McClarty and Payne attempted to get Bearheels back inside the cruiser, they were unsuccessful, even after grabbing him by his pony tail and attempting to force him into the car.
That is when things took a violent turn. Payne then deployed his taser 12 times—eight of those times occurred when Bearheels was on the ground. Bearheels somehow managed to slip out of his handcuffs, at which time the beating began.
Although he had not demonstrated any violent tendencies and was not under arrest for a crime, McClarty escalated the use of force against Bearheels, striking him with closed fists in the head at least 15 times.
When the ambulance arrived, Bearheels was not breathing. Medics transported him to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.
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The county prosecutor contended the officers did not intend to kill Bearheels, and as a result, the two were not charged with manslaughter or homicide. Instead, McClarty is charged with third-degree assault, a misdemeanor, for punching Bearheels numerous times. And Payne is charged with second-degree assault, a felony, for shocking Bearheels with a taser 12 times.
The entire killing was caught on Strudl's dashcam video, and is extremely graphic, chronicling Bearheel's last minutes alive. Unfortunately, events such as a mentally-ill man being beaten to death by police are all too common in today's police state.
As The Free Thought Project has reported, police are killing almost 1,200 people a year in the United States. That number could be much higher as, incredulously, law enforcement agencies are not required to report to any federal agency tracking such deaths. While the FBI started tracking them recently, participation by individual agencies is voluntary.
This case is also eerily similar to the case of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill, homeless man who was brutally attacked and beaten to death by police in Fullerton, California, in July 2011.
The confrontation began based on a call to police claiming that Thomas—an unarmed, schizophrenic, transient man—was breaking into cars. It turned into a brutal 9-minute beating that resulted in the loss of Thomas's life. In the video recording of the encounter, Thomas is heard crying out for his father 31 times, yelling “sir please” 30 times, “help me” 26 times, and “I’m sorry” 15 times before slipping into a coma.
The officers responsible for Thomas's death—Jay Cicinelli, Manuel Ramos, Joe Wolfe, Kenton Hampton, James Blatney and Sergeant Kevin Craig—were never charged for their actions. In fact, the only individuals who served jail time in relation to Thomas's death were the protesters who demanded the police officers be held accountable for their actions.
It is time for prosecutors to do their jobs and hold officers to the same standard that they hold the general public. It is important to remember that if an average citizen had treated Bearheels the way the former Omaha cops who killed him did, they would be charged with murder.