National News

Former OPD officer in court for in-custody death of Zachary Bearheels

Posted September 11

— Former Omaha Police Officer Scotty Payne made an appearance in court Monday morning for his part in the in-custody death of Zachary Bearheels on June 5th.

Payne, a four year veteran of the force, was charged with second degree assault in the case.

He and three other officers were fired by Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer.

Payne deployed a taser on Bearheels a total of 12 times. OPD policy states that after three times alternative methods are to be used.

The confrontation with Bearheels happened June 5th at the 60th and Center Bucky's. Bearheels, 29, had allegedly been causing a disturbance at that location around 12:30 a.m.

Officers arrived and questioned him. They provided him with water and offered to take him wherever he needed to go. Authorities say Bearheels became more erratic and officers eventually placed him in handcuffs and later into the back of a police cruiser. The struggle began when Bearheels got out of the vehicle.

In the course of that clash, Bearheels was punched, dragged by the hair, and repeatedly stunned with the taser. He was eventually taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. Authorities have listed the cause of death as "excited delirium" - a sudden death caused by agitation and distress.

In court, a crime specialist was asked how an officer can deploy a taser for 18 seconds. "You take the safety off and hold the trigger down for 18 seconds," the specialist replied. She said use of a taser is not to exceed 15 seconds.

When asked if the Omaha Police Department allows for the use of a taser in some circumstances, the investigator replied, yes, when suspects are actively resisting officers.

Attorney, Steve Lefler, grilled the investigator about police procedure when using tasers and trying to restrain a suspect.

The investigator said, once Bearheels was out of his handcuffs, a restraining hold would have been appropriate.

She said when the handcuffs were off, Bearheels was "swinging punches, was it because he was tasered for more than a minute or was it because he's trying to commit a crime. We'll never know."

She added that verbal commands and retreating are methods that officers could have been use to stop Bearheels from swinging.

Referring to the video captured of the incident, she said "I heard (officers say) 'get down,' 'get in the car' but nothing about stop resisting. He was never told he was under arrest, just get in the car. After being tasered he was told to get up which is impossible."

She said she didn't believe any of the methods used in attempting to restrain Bearheels by the four officers was adequate.

She said Bearheels was never placed under arrest. When asked why officers handcuffed him and put him in the back of the cruiser it was to take him to the bus station.

"And do what with him?" she was asked.

"Leave him there until the buses run."

Comments

Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all