- Associated Press - Thursday, July 13, 2017

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The mayor of Omaha is forming a Native American advisory board and local police officers will receive training on indigenous culture after a man died in police custody last month.

City officials and leaders in the indigenous community met June 28, more than three weeks after the death of unarmed Native American Zachary Bearheels, 29, the Omaha World-Herald (https://bit.ly/2tiHghS ) reported.

Police said Bearheels died after officers shocked him 12 times with a Taser, punched him and dragged him by his hair. Police alleged they were responding to a call at a convenience store for a disturbance involving a person who was refusing to leave the store.

According to his family, Bearheels had mental illnesses and was lost in Omaha after being kicked off an interstate bus going from South Dakota to Oklahoma. Relatives said they think Bearheels stopped taking his medicine.

Lucas LaRose, a commissioner on the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, said the meeting was scheduled to discuss how Native Americans are treated in Omaha.

“There’s this general belief that if you’re a person of color in this city, a lot of times your opinion doesn’t count,” LaRose said. “Having them (city officials) take the time out of their day to really address this issue shows that they’re serious. I was encouraged by the fact that they confessed to some errors.”

Mayor Jean Stothert will create the advisory board by executive order. In the past, Stothert has created similar boards focused on LGBTQ, veterans and millennial issues.

Police Chief Todd Schmaderer will organize training on Native American culture sensitivity. Rudi Mitchell, another commissioner on the state Indian Affairs Commission, has offered to train officers.

Mitchell said long hair is considered sacred for Native American men, so he and LaRose said it was troubling when they heard an officer used Bearheels’ ponytail to drag him across a parking lot.

Schmaderer recommended the city fire Scotty Payne and Ryan McClarty, two of the officers involved in Bearheels’ death. Officers Jennifer Strudl and Makyla Mead, who were at the scene before Payne and McClarty arrived, are placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.


Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com

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