Omaha police have released two photos of Tyree Bell, the man shot to death Tuesday morning by officers. The photos are part of the cruiser cam video of the incident at 42nd and Spaulding that Chief Todd Schmaderer described as "emotional and graphic."
The 31-year-old Bell was shot to death following a more than two-hour standoff with police. The final 20 minutes was recorded. The pictures came from brand new cruiser cams installed a month ago.
The still frames show Bell on his porch cradling his son in one hand and holding a shotgun in the other. A second photo shows Bell standing up, still holding the boy. After Bell put his son back inside the house, police say he pointed the shotgun and a pellet gun at officers who opened fire. They learned later the shotgun wasn't loaded.
“I think the video did exactly what it was supposed to do.” OPD Sgt. Jeff Baker says the cruiser cams not only help officers review their own actions, but can be used to gather evidence for criminal, and in this case internal, investigations.
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“They're the unimpeachable witnesses, so our critics in the past cannot say in this instance or any instance, well the guy wasn’t armed or he was shot because he fits a certain profile or the cops acted too prematurely or too quickly.”
It's not just cruiser cams that are helping police do their jobs better. “As soon as the slide goes down the camera turns on and when you’re done you just slide it back up.”
Bellevue police wear body cameras to record exactly what an officer sees. "You can describe an incident, but until you see it in video or you see a photo of it you don't understand what their facing or what they’re describing,” said BPD Lt. Tom Dargy.
Bellevue police are even testing a flashlight that can record audio and video. For Lt. Dargy, investing in the technology is a no-brainer. “It's a treasure trove of evidence for the prosecution who can go ahead, if someone says I didn't do this, we have the video that we can play and a jury can actually witness it and understand it like we witnessed it.”
While dash cam video from a police cruiser can be a helpful tool in court, a grand jury must still consider other pieces of evidence in a criminal case.
Chief Schmaderer said officers were originally sent to the home to investigate a domestic disturbance via a 911 call. "Get here quick, have an ambulance come, he's got a shotgun. She, this caller, painted a very grave situation occurring."
The caller said there were two children in the home, 3-year-old twins, along with Bell's fiancee Labette Spracher. Schmaderer said Spracher ran out of the home as soon as police arrived at 4:11 a.m. After negotiating with Bell, he then let their daughter go but kept their son inside.
“While holding his son in front of him, he leveled his shotgun directly at the officers. The officers, fearing for safety of the child, could not respond in defense of themselves." The chief said this happened numerous times and Bell repeatedly made suicidal and threatening statements.
Spracher says there were calm moments. “He came, sat on the steps, was talking, by the door talking, walked in the middle of the yard, had his hands up and was talking.” Spracher told Channel 6 News Tuesday that Bell attempted to surrender. Police say Bell made no attempt to surrender.
Schmaderer walked us through Bell's last moments. “Mr. Bell put his son down inside the house and appeared on the front porch with a shotgun and the rifle in each hand. Mr. Bell raised up both firearms and pointed them at officers. At this time, four officers discharged their duty weapons striking Mr. Bell numerous times."
Bell was armed with a pellet gun and a shotgun, which was later determined to be unloaded. Schmaderer said both weapons were repeatedly pointed at officers and they had no other option but to fire at Bell. He said his men did exactly what they are trained to do.
Chief Schmaderer also said Bell had a long history of domestic violence with Spracher and felony gun possession arrests. Alcohol and drugs were likely involved, but that has not yet been confirmed, according to police. The chief said Bell had a history of issues with mental illness.
Add to that a history of possessing guns when he shouldn't have had them. Bell served time for those charges. Schmaderer believes people should be serving more than the minimum for that charge. “When we are attempting to reduce violent crime and at this point and time guns play a significant role in it, I would like to see gun crimes addressed."
He said a gun was used in three-quarters of Omaha's homicides last year and in three out of four felony assaults. “Just given the totality and the macro numbers that I just said for the community of Omaha, I would like to see more than the minimum sentence given."
Schmaderer was asked if he thought Bell wanted to be shot. "It's hard to say. The situation occurred the way it did. If that fits the definition, then so be it, but he had suicidal thoughts and he leveled a weapon at officers."
The officers involved have been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a grand jury investigation, which is standard procedure. They are identified as 31-year-old Douglas Arrick, a four-year veteran, 36-year-old Carl Hanson, a 12-year veteran, 29-year-old Chithauta Hester, a four-year veteran and 35-year-old Alan Peatrowsky, a seven-year veteran.
Carl Greiner, a forensic psychiatrist and professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said if you have a loved one who is dealing with mental illness, number one, put your own safety and the safety of your children first. But before a person escalates and becomes violent, taking your loved one to an emergency room is an option. There they can receive a mental evaluation, treatment and possibly hospitalization.