Nebraska ACLU calls for "independent review" of autopsy for mentally-ill man who died in OPD custody

Published: Jul. 16, 2017 at 9:02 PM CDT
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The Nebraska ACLU is challenging the Douglas County Coroner's report that lists "excited delirium" as a cause of death for Zachary Bearheels. The ACLU argues "excited delirium" doesn't exist.

Bearheels, who was mentally ill, was tased 12 times last month while Omaha Police officers struggled to take him into custody. He later died. Bearheels's official autopsy lists the taser, along with "physical struggle" and "physical restraint" as causes of death. However, "excited delirium" was the top cause on the Coroner's report.

Amy Miller, Legal Director for the Nebraska ACLU, told WOWT 6 News: "Mr. Bearheels did not cause his death by getting overly excited."

Miller told WOWT 6 News the ACLU is calling for an independent review of Bearheels's autopsy. She said the civil rights organization contends "excited delirium" isn't a legitimate cause of death. She said: "It only seems to happen when they've had a police interaction when some force of physical force is used... No medical experts or organizations agree that excited delirium is a real diagnosis"

WOWT 6 News tried to obtain an exact definition for "excited delirium" but couldn't find it listed on websites for the American Medical Association or World Health Organization. However, WOWT 6 News did find an article about "excited delirium" written by a doctor in a medical journal. The doctor described "agitation...aggression...and sudden death... sometimes in the custody of law enforcement."

At a news conference two weeks ago, Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine had full faith in the Coroner's report and the "excited delirium" conclusion. Kleine said: "It's somewhat unusual, but it is something that occurs. And it's something that's in the books and it's a diagnosed cause of death."

The Omaha Police Department has video of the struggle with Bearheels prior to his death. The video hasn't been released. The ACLU is calling for the video to be made public.