Omaha settles with Zachary Bear Heels’ mother, estate

Published: Aug. 13, 2020 at 9:45 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -

The city of Omaha has reached a settlement with the mother and estate of a man who died in police custody. The settlement amounts to $550,000.


Both sides agree that what happened the morning of June 5, 2017 was tragic. Officers were called to investigate a man causing a disturbance at a gas station at 60th & Center. It turned out to be a man named Zachary Bear Heels.

Bear Heels had been traveling on a bus to his home in Oklahoma. He was asked to leave the bus when it stopped in Omaha. He eventually found himself at the gas station in the middle of the night.

Officers spoke on the phone with his mother who asked them to place him in a Crisis Center until she could drive from Oklahoma to pick him up.

However, Bear Heels struggled with officers. At one point an officer tased him 12 times and Bear Heels died soon after. His cause of death was determined to be excited delirium.

His mother, Renita Chalepah, later filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging among other things that police used excessive force. She did not specify an amount for damages. Federal court documents indicate a federal judge ordered both sides on August 3 to file for dismissal because of a settlement.

The Omaha City Council will be asked to approve the $550,000 settlement at Tuesday’s meeting. The mayor, deputy city attorney, and finance director approved it earlier this week.

Four officers were there during the Bear Heels encounter. One of them, Scotty Payne, was fired for his actions. Three others were disciplined. Two of the officers were criminally charged. Payne was tried for second degree assault but acquitted during a jury trial. The county attorney later dropped misdemeanor charges against the other officer after determining it could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer was not justified in his actions.

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