'I’m not down to harm anybody'Micah Taylor, Santee Sioux, jailed after being shot by officer in Nebraska
By Kevin Abourezk
@Kevin_Abourezk OMAHA, Nebraska – Micah Taylor was driving his Toyota Camry in north Omaha that afternoon, on his way to pick up his spiritual adviser to go to a sweat lodge. It was Thursday, March 8, and the 21-year-old Santee Sioux man was doing what he often does – trying to reconnect to his Native culture. Having grown up in a city, far from his tribe’s lands, that hasn’t always been easy for him to do. But he’s attended sweat lodges, gathered and delivered donations to social programs that help Native people, and even took supplies to pipeline protestors at Standing Rock several times between 2016 and 2017. Often, he’s used his own money to buy donations, including guitars, keyboards and harmonicas for Ojibwe children in Minnesota who’ve suffered from trauma. A photo his mother snapped March 7 shows him packing up clothes and blankets and toys in his living room that he planned to deliver to needy children on his tribe’s lands, the Santee Sioux Reservation. So it came as a surprise to him, as he steered his car onto a north Omaha freeway the afternoon of March 8, when flashing police headlights suddenly appeared in his rearview mirror. Those sirens and headlights changed his course that day and now threaten to alter the course of his life. He never made it to the sweat lodge. Instead, he’s fighting for his life and freedom inside an Omaha jail. “I’m not down to harm anybody,” he said by phone from the Douglas County Jail this week. “I was on my way to a sweat lodge.”
THE OTHER SIDEOmaha police offer a different version of events. According to them, the city’s gang unit had conducted surveillance on Taylor, whom they suspected of dealing marijuana and possessing firearms. Around 2:15 p.m. March 8, they saw Taylor sell marijuana and a helicopter unit and an officer in a marked cruiser followed him. Around 2:30 p.m., the officer pulled him over on an interstate in north Omaha. Officer David Staskiewicz asked Taylor for his license, registration and insurance, but Taylor initially refused. He eventually handed over the items, and Staskiewicz then asked him to step out of his car. Again, police say, Taylor refused. “I am not asking you, I am telling you, step out of the car!” the officer yelled. Staskiewicz then opened Taylor’s car door and tried to pull him out, but Taylor struggled to pull away from him. While holding Taylor’s arm, Staskiewicz stepped back and drew his gun. Taylor then began driving away, which led to Staskiewicz being pulled alongside his vehicle, according to police. The officer then fired three rounds as he was being dragged and fell to the ground. Taylor, injured, drove south on the interstate with gang unit officers in pursuit until he struck stop sticks laid out by another Omaha officer. The sticks caused him to lose control of his car, and it struck a concrete median and came to rest in a shoulder area. Police then took him into custody, initially taking him to an Omaha hospital for treatment.
The entire traffic stop, from the time Staskiewicz pulled Taylor over to when Taylor drove away, lasted less than two minutes. A day later, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said his department cleared the 49-year-old Staskiewicz – a 19-year veteran of the department – for his use of deadly force. "Based on the evidence we can verify at this time, which includes multiple sources of video, Officer Staskiewicz’s use of deadly force was reasonable and justified,” he said. Taylor was cited on suspicion of assault on an officer, flight to avoid arrest, delivery of a controlled substance (marijuana) and possession of a deadly weapon (brass knuckles) during the commission of a felony. He was given a $1 million bond and is now facing 76 years in prison. He attended a preliminary hearing in Douglas County Court on Tuesday and is now awaiting his next appearance in Douglas County District Court. Prosecutors also have charged him with domestic violence assault and strangulation, as well as witness tampering, for a separate case in nearby Sarpy County.
AN UNCOMFORTABLE POSITIONSince the March 8 traffic stop and shooting, Taylor has spent most of his time in lockdown in a cell in Douglas County Jail. He said the bullet that Staskiewicz fired that struck his neck is still there, lodged dangerously close to his spine. So close that an emergency room doctor told him he wouldn’t remove the bullet because doing so might lead to Taylor becoming permanently paralyzed. Since then, Taylor has seen a doctor just four other times, and he said he’s been denied even the most basic treatment for his neck injury, including antibiotic ointment promised to him by his emergency room doctor. He said it took 12 days for jail staff to even respond to his request for Ibuprofen. “It pinches when I sleep so it’s really uncomfortable to really sleep,” he said. “I’m stuck in a constant, uncomfortable state.” Officer Gregory O’Neil, spokesman for the Omaha Police Department, told Indianz.com that the department hasn’t denied Taylor medical treatment. “The OPD has not impeded Mr. Taylor's medical treatment, and any and all medical questions need to be directed to his doctors,” he said.
Medical professionals could not be reached for comment, but Taylor and his family say they plan to request his medical records. And Taylor questions the police department’s description of the traffic stop that led to him being shot. He said Staskiewicz never told him why he pulled him over, and Taylor immediately became concerned that he was being racially profiled. When the officer told him to get out, Taylor said he refused and asked to speak to his attorney instead. “Then he just started ripping me out of my car with his gun on me,” he said. He said he reached for his phone to call his lawyer, but then the officer fired a shot from his handgun, striking him in the neck. “Then I pulled off because I wasn’t just going to sit there and keep getting shot,” Taylor said. “He would have killed me.” He said he doesn’t know why Staskiewicz began shooting at him, but he wonders whether the officer thought his phone was a gun. He said he didn’t have any marijuana on him when he was stopped, and the brass knuckles that police found were in his trunk, not on his body. And he contradicted the police department’s description of him as a gang member who was known to possess guns and sell marijuana. “I’m not a gang member,” he said.
John Pappan, an Omaha spiritual leader and longtime mentor to Taylor, described him as a spiritual and caring young man who has worked to help Native people for many years. He said Taylor had planned to pick him up that afternoon so they could go to a sweat lodge together, but Taylor never showed up. After another friend picked Pappan up and while they were on their way to the sweat lodge later that afternoon, Pappan got a phone call from Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer, who told him that one of his officers had shot a Native American man but offered few other details. Pappan said he was initially glad to see Schmaderer fulfill a promise he had made following the June 5 death of another Native American man, Zachary Bearheels, while in police custody. Two Omaha officers are currently facing charges of assault after they allegedly punched Bearheels 13 times and shocked him a dozen times with a Taser just minutes before he died. However, later on the evening of March 8, Schmaderer texted him the name of the man shot by his officer earlier that day. “I’m just going, ‘Wow,’” Pappan said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
The next morning he went to the hospital where Taylor was being treated but was denied access to him. Later that day, he contacted Schmaderer to complain about not being allowed to see or talk to Taylor and to tell the police chief that he should tread carefully considering how distrustful so many people in the Native community in Omaha already were of police. “He asked if I was threatening him,” Pappan said. “That didn’t really sit well with me.” He described Taylor as a young man who has struggled to reconnect to his Native identity and has struggled with other issues as well. He described taking him to a sweat lodge once while Taylor was wearing an ankle bracelet. “For the most part, he’s a good kid,” Pappan said. “I’m not saying that he’s a saint or anything.” Pappan said he’s hopeful a mayoral advisory board that he’s helping to establish in Omaha to address Native concerns in the city can address the mistreatment of Native people by Omaha police. “I think this is very disturbing in how the police treat Native people,” he said. “I just think that we deserve better. This has got to end.”
NOT A GANG-BANGERDeAnna Taylor just wants people to know her son is not a gang-banger, doesn’t own a gun, takes care of his mother and brother and has dreams of doing big things to help his people. The 61-year-old mother of eight children, including six Native children she has adopted, said Micah is the youngest of her children. She adopted him when he was age 2, by which time he had already been in 15 different foster homes. And he suffered abuse while in some of those homes and has struggled in recent years with anger problems and delinquent behavior, including drug use, DeAnna said. But he’s been working on those issues and continues to work to try to deal with his anger. “I’m not the kind of mom that says, ‘My children don’t do anything wrong,’” she said. “But my son is no gang member.” She said he got involved with a woman in nearby Sarpy County and was involved in a domestic violence incident with her late last year. She said Micah and the woman had a fight and police were called. By the time police arrived, Micah had left, but he began texting the woman asking her not to tell the police about their fight. Later, he was charged with witness tampering, domestic violence assault and strangulation. “He was 21,” she said. “He was just stupid.” DeAnna said the incident happened last year, and the woman has even asked to drop the charges against Micah. But the court hasn’t agreed to drop the charges. “He does have an anger problem, but it’s not like he’s out shooting cops. Please believe me,” she said. She said she was surprised to see a warrant for her son had been issued for her son for the Sarpy County domestic incident when Omaha police announced the March 8 shooting to the public. She said the incident last year showed her son has a lot to learn and anger problems to address, but it shouldn’t be used to define him as a hardened criminal. As a child, she said, Micah would give away all the presents she gave him for his birthday and Christmas to other children who didn’t have as much. She talked to a medicine man about the problem, but was told to let him continue giving away his things. It’s part of his culture, the medicine man told DeAnna.
So she’s continued to allow him to give him away his things and has even helped him gather donations to give to others. Together, they’ve gathered toys, blankets, harmonicas, guitars, keyboards and clothing to give to needy Native children and adults on the Santee Sioux and Omaha Nation reservations in northeast Nebraska and on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota. And they hope to continue to help Indian people. They have hopes of reaching out to Omaha children who’ve suffered traumatic experiences, like those Micah has suffered, through music. And he wants to start a gardening program that helps traumatized people heal from their experiences through gardening. He even bought bags of topsoil, seed and Miracle Grow to give to people to start gardens, DeAnna said. “My son has a big heart and he cares about the people,” she said. “He’s just been helping people for as long as I can remember.” She said she doesn’t like the idea of having to ruin a police officer’s reputation in order to gain her son’s freedom but she said she also doesn’t understand why police officers, even those who commit egregious mistakes in the line of duty, are protected by our society. She said she wants to see an independent third party assigned to monitor police activity because she no longer trusts police to monitor themselves. “After Zachary Bearheels, now my son, I’ve personally had it,” she said. “There’s absolutely no reason for this.” She said police didn’t contact her until nearly a day after the shooting to let her know her son had been shot and have yet to publicly admit that her son still has the bullet from the shooting lodged in his neck. And she said she’s not convinced that the bullet cannot be removed without permanently damaging her son’s spine. “Police are allowed to lie. They’ve lied to me,” she said. “I don’t have any confidence from them, and I don’t want to know about his condition and bullet from them because they lie. I would like a second opinion.” She said she’s frustrated that police only investigated the shooting for a day before saying it was justified. She said Micah has been supporting her for nearly two years since she injured her back and has been unable to work. Now she fears she may have to move out of her tiny home in Bellevue since she may not be able to pay her rent. “I think he’s proven that he’s dedicated his life to helping people. That’s his heart,” she said. “I’d like people to look at him through those eyes instead of what the police and media have brought forth.”