Haleck case update: Defense says Haleck was on meth, plaintiffs say it was homicide
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Three Honolulu police officers have argued that their actions, “were not the proximate cause” of death of an American Samoan, whose family has alleged in a civil suit that the deceased was wrongfully seized, denied his liberty, and fatally assaulted by the officers.
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 defendants - Honolulu police officers, Christopher Chung, Samantha Critchlow, and Stephen Kardash - have adamantly denied the allegations.
“It is defendants’ position not only that Haleck would have died regardless of any interaction between defendants and Haleck, but that defendants’ actions were not the proximate cause of Haleck’s death,” according to the defense’s trial brief filing early this week at the federal court, which has set trial for May 21.
Defendants and plaintiffs both filed trial briefs on Tuesday this week and outlined legal issues that each side will raise during trial, which is expected to last up to 12 days. Both parties also provided brief arguments, which appear to have some differences in the events leading up to Haleck’s death.
And each side's interpretation will be raised in opening arguments.
Plaintiffs allege that Haleck “was subjected to excessive force” after he repeatedly disregarded police officers’ orders to, among other things, stop standing in the middle of a crowded multiple lane street with traffic” in downtown Honolulu, according to the defendants who are represented by attorneys of the City and County of Honolulu.
The defense recalled that police arrived at the scene the evening of Mar. 16, 2015 and instructed Haleck - who was walking in the middle of the roadway - to move to the sidewalk. According to the defense, Haleck did not obey the officers’ commands, but instead ran back and forth, evading the officers, but staying in the roadway.
Chung and Critchlow chased Haleck and tried to grab him with their hands. The officers used pepper spray on Haleck - which had no effect on him - after Haleck was warned that pepper spray would be used if he didn't move to the sidewalk.
After Chung warned Haleck twice that he would tase him if he did not get on the sidewalk, the officer deployed the taser, but it “did not have any effect on Haleck”.
Kardash then arrived on the scene and chased Haleck and gave him “clear orders to get on the ground”. But when Haleck “refused to obey” Kardash pepper sprayed him.
According to the defense, Haleck was again warned that he will be tased, if he didn’t move to the sidewalk, but - again - he didn’t. Chung fired his taser at least three times, but there was still no effect.
“Haleck continued to run from the officers and tripped, fell to his stomach, and rolled onto his back,” the defense said. “Haleck was yelling, struggling, attempting to get away, resisting officers’ efforts to get his hands, and kicking the officers.”
The officers were eventually able to handcuff Haleck, place his legs in shackles, and move him to the side of the road. “Haleck became unresponsive. Officers immediately began performing CPR, and medical personnel took over,” the defense said, noting that Haleck was taken to Queen’s Medical Center, where he died the following day.
“Officers suspected that Haleck was on drugs at the time of the incident,” the defense argued and points out that a urinalysis taken at Queen’s after the incident “indicates that Haleck was on methamphetamine.”
In conclusion, defense said, “evidence in this case will establish that each of the defendants’ conduct was objectively reasonable, and that their actions were not a but-for or proximate cause of Haleck’s death.”
Plaintiffs' take on the events of the Mar. 16th evening, echoed some of what the defense stated in their trial brief.
“Sheldon apologized as he backed away and did not immediately comply with the instruction,” according to the plaintiffs’ side, which is different what from the defense’s version.
“Without warning, and under no threat of danger to [the officers] or members of the public, Chung and Critchlow sprayed Sheldon with pepper spray,” said the plaintiffs trial brief which also gives a different account on the number of times Haleck was pepper sprayed.
When “Sheldon reacted defensively by evading the officers”, Chung and Critchlow “sprayed Sheldon with pepper sprayed six more times,” the plaintiffs allege, noting that Kardash again ordered Sheldon to move to the sidewalk.
“When Sheldon failed to respond, Kardash sprayed him with pepper spray three more times for a combined total of eleven discharges of pepper spray,” the plaintiffs say, reiterating the claim that “Sheldon presented no physical threat to officers or members of the public.”
According to the plaintiffs, Chung tasered the deceased three times, with the “third time causing Sheldon to collapse face-first to the ground. At no point did the circumstances justify Defendants’ repeated and irresponsible use of intermediate level force.”
“Sheldon was handcuffed, shackled, and his unconscious body was moved to the side of the road while officers waited for paramedics without rendering aid,” said plaintiffs who noted that Haleck was pronounced dead at Queen’s Medical Center the following morning “and the medical examiner determined the manner of death to be a homicide.”
“Defendants used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment when deploying intermediate force without justification,” said the plaintiffs.