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Sheldon Haleck case is moving forward after no settlement reached

Honolulu Federal Courtouse

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The family of an American Samoan man who is alleged to have been assaulted by three police officers in downtown Honolulu and later died at a Hawaii hospital four year ago is seeking “general and punitive damages of ten million dollars” in their civil lawsuit against the officers, according to new filings at the federal court in Honolulu, which has set trial next month.

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 — on the evening of Mar. 16, 2015 — was wrongfully seized, denied his liberty, and fatally assaulted by Honolulu police officers Christopher Chung, Samantha Critchlow, and Stephen Kardash. The officers have adamantly denied the allegations.

Both parties last week filed pretrial conference motions, with oral arguments to be heard May 15th for the final pretrial conference hearing presided over by US District Court Helen Gillmor. Court records show that the case is moving to trial on May 21 as both sides have failed to reach a settlement.

In their 19-page Final Pretrial Statement, plaintiffs maintain their longstanding arguments that Sheldon “was an unarmed, defenseless man who was posing no imminent threat of harm” to the officers or to any members of the public on the evening of Mar. 16, 2015.

According to the plaintiffs, the “only disputed factual issues remaining in this case are: the causation of Sheldon’s death, i.e., to what extent the excessive use of pepper spray and the multiple uses of the Taser in dart-mode contributed to Sheldon’s death; and the valuation of the amount of damages.”

Plaintiffs pointed to the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last year, the “unanimous memorandum opinion affirming” the lower court’s decision of “denial of qualified immunity” as claimed by the police officers and remanding the case back to the lower court “for further proceedings consistent with the [Ninth Circuit’s] disposition.”

Regarding settlement discussions with defendants, plaintiffs’ claim that prior settlement discussions “have not resulted in a settlement agreement due to the lack of any credible offer from Defendants.”

On the relief being sought, plaintiff “seeks general and punitive damages of ten million dollars and special damages in the amount of one million dollars for lost earnings and medical expenses.”

Sheldon’s death was officially ruled a “homicide” by the Honolulu medical examiner in the June 24, 2015 “Autopsy Report” — which is among evidence presented during the trial, according to court filings.

In their 24-page Final Pretrial Statement, the defendants cite what they argue are two “undisputed facts” — the officers “were acting in the course and scope of their employment during the incident on March 16, 2015” and “were acting under color of law during the incident.”

Defendants cited eight “disputed factual issues” which they expect to be raised during trial. Among them is the “reasonableness” of the officers' use of pepper spray and taser on Sheldon; and whether his death was caused by the officers’ use of force.

According to the defense, the “force used by the officers was objectively reasonable”, arguing that “no officer utilized force once Mr. Haleck was secured in handcuffs and leg shackles” on the ground.

“Plaintiff must specifically allege the unlawful conduct of each defendant,” the defense argues. “Vague and conclusory allegations concerning the involvement of official personnel in civil rights violations are not sufficient.”

As to the relief sought, the defendants ask for a judgement in their favor, “with plaintiff taking nothing.” The officers “do not anticipate settlement at this time and do not request a settlement conference.”

Both sides have estimated the length of trial to last up to 12 days.