A federal appeals court has ruled that Honolulu police officers used excessive force in the 2015 death of Sheldon Haleck, clearing the way for a lawsuit to proceed against the department and officers.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with a lower court ruling that the actions of the Honolulu Police Department in the March 16, 2015 arrest and eventual death of Haleck could not keep them from being sued.
The case started with a civil rights lawsuit filed by Haleck’s family against the City and County of Honolulu and three police officers. It accused officers Christopher Chung, Samantha Critchlow and Stephen Kardash of using excessive force when trying to arrest Haleck, who was seen darting through traffic near Iolani Palace.
Haleck, 38, was first sprayed with pepper spray, then tased. More pepper spray was used and officers then tackled him. He was eventually restrained by several officer who shackled his arms and legs Officers held him down so they could shackle his arms and legs.
Haleck was unresponsive when officers turned him over, according to his autopsy report. He died the next day at Queens Medical Center.
The police department contended in federal court that the officers had used appropriate police tactics and had a right to qualified immunity. The lower federal district court disagreed, sending the case to the Ninth Circuit and putting the family’s suit in a holding pattern until now.
“Although Appellants were serving in a caretaking function, there was no emergency to increase the ‘severity’ of the circumstances,” the decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stated Tuesday. “We affirm the district court’s denial of qualified immunity and remand for further proceedings consistent with this disposition.”
A medical examiner report ruled his death a homicide that was due to “multiple metabolic and cardiac complications” stemming from what was described as a “violent physical struggle” with police. The autopsy also revealed Haleck had taken a methamphetamine.
A spokeswoman for the Honolulu Police Department said attorneys for the agency were reviewing the decision. Attorney Eric Seitz, who represents the Haleck family, said the ruling allows the lawsuit to proceed.
“They’ve been wrong, horribly wrong on this case,” Seitz said of HPD.
In Honolulu, home to Hawaii’s largest police department, patrol cars are not equipped with dashcam video, and body cameras are not expected to be issued to officers until later this year.
Only police Tasers are equipped with cameras. Four months after Civil Beat first asked for the video from the Taser, it was released by HPD.
In the video, Haleck appears to have his hands up and talking to officers before they used the Taser.