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Haleck homicide case will go to trial in May

U.S. Supreme Court building

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The US Supreme Court has “denied” a petition by three Honolulu police officers, who were arrested for allegedly assaulting an American Samoan man, who later died at a hospital in Hawai’i three years ago.

The deceased is Sheldon Paul Haleck, son of former Police Commissioner, William Haleck, who along with Sheldon’s wife and siblings, filed a civil action suit in November 2015 at the federal court in Honolulu.

The plaintiffs contend, among other things, that the deceased was wrongfully seized, denied his liberty, and fatally assaulted by Honolulu police officers Christopher Chung, Samantha Critchlow, and Stephen Kardash.

Two years ago, the Honolulu federal court denied the defendants' motion for “summary judgment based on qualified immunity” under federal law over Sheldon’s death. The defendants appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued a ruling last July that “affirmed” the lower court’s ruling in “denying qualified immunity” for the three police officers — whom filed last December with the US Supreme Court the Petition for Writ of Certiorari.

(See Samoa News Dec. 21st edition for details).

The plaintiffs had argued in the motion filed with the Supreme Court that Sheldon “did not pose an imminent threat of harm” to the three police officers who arrested him, and he “was not trying to run away.” They described Sheldon as a “defenseless man” who posed no threat to the public.

Supreme Court public records show that the case was on the calendar last week Friday for discussion, and on Tuesday this week, records state that the petition was “denied”. No other public information was available as of yesterday morning.

Responding to Samoa News questions, Honolulu-based attorney Eric Seitz, representing the plaintiffs, explained that this case was considered in the Supreme Court’s weekly conference last Friday “by all nine justices” and “not a single one of whom apparently voted to hear the case.”

“There will be no other opinion or order from the Supreme Court,” he said from Honolulu yesterday. “Had at least four of the nine justices voted to hear the case, that would have indicated they would [want] to review, and probably alter, nearly forty years of existing precedents that limit the use of deadly force by police and other law enforcement officers. Fortunately that did not occur.”

“The defendants were hoping to avoid a trial by this latest series of interlocutory appeals, and they never have made any effort to settle the case while their appeals were still pending,” he said, adding that the case is going to trial in May — as scheduled — at the Honolulu federal court, “unless the case settles before then.”

City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Corporation Counsel, representing the police officers, didn’t immediately respond to Samoa News emailed questions yesterday morning.

In their brief filed with the Supreme Court, the plaintiffs pointed out that the three officers asserted that they were entitled to deploy their “tasers multiple times and employ pepper spray a total of at least fourteen times, without warnings and within a span of just a few minutes,” against Sheldon, “a defenseless man who was incapable of understanding and complying with their directions to get out of a public roadway.”

Additionally, none of the officers claim to have been physically assaulted or threatened by Sheldon, who was unarmed. “He did not pose an imminent threat of harm to the officers or to any member of the public. He was not trying to run away,” the plaintiffs claim.

Sheldon’s death was officially ruled a “homicide” by the Honolulu medical examiner in the June 24, 2015 “Autopsy Report”.