Winnebago activist Frank LaMere addresses members of the Native community in Omaha, Nebraska, following a court hearing on April 19, 2018, for one of two former Omaha police officers accused of beating and shocking Zachary Bearheels, a Rosebud Sioux man before he died on June 5. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Fired police officer won't go to trial for death of Native man until next year

'They should all be prosecuted'

Native community demands justice for death of Zachary Bearheels
Lakota man, 29, was, tased and punched by police officers
By Kevin Abourezk

OMAHA, Nebraska – Native Americans gathered in a courthouse here for a brief hearing Thursday for one of two police officers charged with assaulting a Lakota man who later died.

The hearing for former Omaha police officer Ryan McClarty lasted only a few minutes, and Douglas County Court Judge Russell Derr set a jury trial for McClarty for in January 2019. McClarty has waived his right to a speedy trial.

“Time is not an issue at this point,” Derr said.

He said January 14-18, 2019, was the earliest period that a jury trial could be held in his courtroom.

Former police officer Ryan McClarty, right, and his attorney await the arrival of Douglas County Judge Russell Derr during a hearing in Omaha, Nebraska, on April 19, 2018. McClarty is accused of punching Zachary Bearheels, a Rosebud Sioux man 13 times before he died. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

McClarty – who did not speak during his hearing Thursday – is accused of punching Zachary Bearheels, a 29-year-old Rosebud Sioux man, 13 times after he and fellow officer Scotty Payne had arrested Bearheels. Payne is accused of shocking Bearheels 12 times with a Taser.

Bearheels died about an hour after being shocked and punched by the two officers on June 5, 2017.

He was traveling to Oklahoma City when he was kicked off the bus for erratic behavior. His relatives have said he had schizophrenia, was bipolar and wasn’t taking his medication.

#NativeLivesMatter: Native Americans are more likely to be killed by law enforcement

After the two officers found him, they attempted to put him in a police cruiser. Payne began shocking him after he refused to get into the cruiser and even after he was sitting on the ground, handcuffed, near the back passenger tire of a police cruiser. McClarty began punching Bearheels after he got a hand free from his cuffs.

A coroner’s physician who conducted an autopsy on Bearheels later concluded his death was attributable to “excited delirium” and not necessarily related to his injuries or shocks.

Payne was fired in July and then charged with felony second-degree assault, while McClarty also was fired and charged with third-degree assault, a misdemeanor.

Winnebago activist Frank LaMere talks to reporters inside the Douglas County Courthouse in Omaha, Nebraska, on April 19, 2018, following a brief hearing for former police Ryan McClarty, who is accused of punching Zachary Bearheels, a Rosebud Sioux man 13 times before he died. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

On Thursday, Winnebago activist Frank LaMere called on state prosecutors to charge two other officers involved in the encounter with Bearheels – Jennifer Strudl and Makyla Mead, who were fired – for failing to protect him.

“There were four officers involved in the Tasering, the beating of Zachary Bearheels,” he said, standing outside the courtroom following Thursday’s hearing for McClarty. “There were two black officers. There were two white women officers. They should all be prosecuted.”

He said he hopes Native people from across the country will to join him next January to demand justice for Bearheels.

John Pappan, a citizen of the Omaha Tribe, said he would also like to see great scrutiny of another violent incident between Omaha police and a Native man. He said the March 8 shooting of Micah Taylor, a Santee Sioux man, also needs to be further investigated.

Taylor was shot in the neck during a traffic stop and is accused of assaulting an officer, fleeing to avoid arrest, selling marijuana and possessing a deadly weapon (brass knuckles). He has denied the charges against him, saying he sped away from the officer who pulled him over after the officer began shooting at him.

“I would like to ask all our relatives through Turtle Island to say prayers for us,” Pappan said. “Say prayers for the Bearheels family. Say prayers for Micah Taylor and his family.”

LaMere reminded those gathered in the courthouse Thursday about the fear Bearheels must have experienced in his final moments.

“In his last seconds of life, who could Zachary Bearheels scream out to? Who could he scream out to?” he said. “That is hard for me to think about. All humanity turned their back on him.”


Native Americans are more likely to be killed by law enforcement than any other racial or ethnic group, according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

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