Family of man who died in police custody sues City of Bellevue

Family of man who died in police custody sues City of Bellevue
Alex Zoucha

A wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the father of a man who died in the custody of Bellevue police alleges that the man’s civil rights were violated.

The lawsuit filed in connection with the Feb. 24, 2016, death of Alex Zoucha, 31, asks for $19,000 in medical and funeral expenses. It also asks that an unspecified amount of damages be awarded to Zoucha’s family for pain and suffering.

“Alex J. Zoucha died as a direct and proximate result of the negligence of the City of Bellevue and its police officers, Allison Evans, Holly McQuaid, Ashley Meyers and Anthony Orsi,” according to the lawsuit filed by attorney Stephen L. Gerdes on behalf of Jeff Zoucha. It also alleges that the officers failed to follow standard operating procedures and the city was negligent “in failing to adequately train its police officers.”

The lawsuit originally was filed in Sarpy County District Court. Defense attorney Ryan Kunhart, who is defending the city and the officers, had the lawsuit moved to U.S. District Court due to an allegation that Alex Zoucha’s civil rights were violated.

“Officers Orsi, Evans, McQuaid and Meyers are good officers who risk their lives every day for the citizens of Bellevue,” Kunhart said Wednesday. “After a complete investigation, the grand jury returned a no bill and all of the officers were returned to active duty.”

Police said they were called to 612 W. 22nd Ave. to check on a report of a man standing in a street and screaming. Witnesses said Zoucha had been screaming into a cellphone, referencing Jesus, the devil and his grandmother as he walked.

Someone called 911 about 9:30 p.m. as Zoucha next went to the rear of his grandmother’s house where he lived, then to the front door across the street. When officers arrived, they found Zoucha trying to get into the house. Police said an officer used a Taser on Zoucha after he became combative.

Zoucha, who was married with daughters, became unresponsive as officers tried to gain control, police said. Officers performed CPR until medical personnel arrived and took Zoucha to Nebraska Medicine-Bellevue, where he died.

In a statement three days later, Zoucha’s family said he had battled addictions for years.

Bellevue police have not announced any changes in their training policies since that incident. Kunhart said he can’t comment on whether Bellevue has changed any of its training “given the pending litigation which alleges issues with the training provided.”

In 2017, four Omaha police officers were fired and new training procedures were ordered following the death of Zachary Bearheels near 60th and Center Streets. Two of the officers are facing criminal charges in connection with that incident.

Police Chief Todd Schmaderer later concluded that officers had not followed department policy in the use of force. Video showed one officer punching Bearheels in the head and another shocking him repeatedly with a Taser.

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