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Zachary Bear Heels and Arbitration


In the early morning of June 5, 2017, Zachary Bear Heels was killed by the Omaha Police Department. reported he was tased 12 times (most while in handcuffs and 3 while he was seated on the ground), punched in the head 13 times, then held to the ground on his stomach while two officers took turns putting their full weight on his back. When they turned him over to handcuff him to a gurney, he was dead.

After public outcry, 5 days later on June 10, Officers Scotty Payne (who repeatedly used the taser against policy) and Officer Ryan McClarty (who dragged Zachary by his hair and punched him repeatedly even while unresponsive) were recommended to be fired by Omaha Police Chief Schmaderer and they were fired shortly after.  Nearly 3 months later on Aug 30th, Officers Jennifer Strudl and Makyla Mead who did not intervene in the killing were fired. Payne was found not guilty of felony assault, and afterwards Don Kleine and the Douglas County Attorney’s office dropped their charge of assault against McClarty.

In April 2020, the result of the arbitration process that remains unchanged in the proposed police union contract, resulted in 3 of the 4 officers getting reinstated with little to no discipline.  Payne’s termination was upheld, McClarty got a 20-day suspension with a one year “last chance agreement”, Mead and Strudl were reinstated with full back pay and required to attend retraining.  The contract allows McClarty’s suspension to be removed from his file after 5 years.

What is arbitration?  Arbitration is the process by which a mutually agreed upon 3rd party hears the arguments behind closed doors and has the decision to dismiss or uphold the punishment issued.  This arbitration process is often responsible for putting cops who have killed suspects back on the police force, even after their police chief has decided to fire them.  If arbitration is meant to protect workers who are “just doing their jobs,” arbitration in the context of police discipline presumes that killing people is just a hazard of the job. This process creates an environment of mistrust and allows for performative actions such as publicly firing officers allowing the police union to work behind closed doors to get them reinstated.

“Three of the four Omaha police officers who killed Zachary Bear Heels in June 2017 got their jobs back because of the inscrutable arbitration process that provided those officers protections not afforded to employees in the private sector. The police union contract now being considered does nothing to address this arbitrary safeguard that allows Omaha officers to act with impunity.”

– Kevin Abourezk (Rosebud Lakota journalist and community organizer)

On November 10th at 2 P.M., the City Council will hold a public hearing, so make sure to get your voice heard on this issue.

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