Zachary Bear Heels, 1987-2017, is seen on the left in a photo posted on social media.

Former police officer on trial for death of Native man

'Zachary Bear Heels died because he did not see the world as we see it'
Rosebud Sioux man, 29, was killed in June 2017
By Kevin Abourezk

OMAHA, Nebraska -- The trial of a former police officer accused of assaulting a Lakota man who later died last year began in a courtroom here on Monday.

Lawyers for the state of Nebraska and for Scotty Payne began jury selection in Douglas County Court, a process expected to take two or three days. His trial is expected to last about two weeks. No one else was allowed in the courtroom Monday.

Payne is accused of shocking Zachary Bear Heels 12 times with a Taser on June 5, 2017. Another former Omaha officer, Ryan McClarty, is accused of punching Bear Heels 13 times in the head.

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

Bear Heels died about an hour after being shocked and punched by the two officers.

“Zachary Bear Heels died because he did not see the world as we see it,” said Frank LaMere, a Winnebago activist, on Monday. “He died because he needed treatment and intervention that was not forthcoming, and he died because he tried to stop those who he was afraid of and those who were hurting him.”

Indianz.Com Video by Kevin Abourezk: Native Community Demands Justice for Zachary Bearheels

Bear Heels, 29, 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.

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 Bear Heels after he got a hand free from his cuffs.

A coroner’s physician who conducted an autopsy on Bear Heels 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.

A jury trial for McClarty has been set for January.

Two other officers, Jennifer Strudl and Makyla Mead, were involved in the encounter with Bear Heels and were fired for failing to protect him.

LaMere has said Strudl and Mead also should have been charged for allowing Bear Heels to be shocked and beaten.

“We are told that when he came into contact with the Omaha Police Department, who were acting as sworn public trustees on that June night, that he was misunderstood,” he said.

“To my mind, that is not justification for handcuffing him, tasering him a dozen times and hitting with a clenched fist more than a dozen times," LaMere said. "Who among us in Omaha and Nebraska could survive that?”


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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