The family of a Honolulu man who died after scuffling with police in 2015 wants the federal judge to reverse a jury verdict that officers did not use excessive force.

Attorneys for Sheldon Haleck, a former military policeman, said in their motion that a recent trial was riddled with errors and prejudice. If the judge won’t grant that, they want a whole new trial under a different judge.

“We don’t think she has given us a fair shake on anything,” Eric Seitz, the plaintiff’s lead attorney, said of U.S. District Court Judge Helen Gillmor, who presided over the trial that concluded June 6.

Evidence clearly showed the officers’ use of force was “unreasonable,” according to the plaintiff’s motion.

Meanwhile, the city’s civil attorneys want the Haleck family to pay more than $28,000 in legal expenses for oral depositions, transcripts and copying costs. It is standard for the prevailing party to be awarded costs other than attorneys’ fees, they said.

Attorney Eric Seitz representing the Haleck family walks out of District Court after jury verdict.
Attorney Eric Seitz, who represented the Haleck family walks out of District Court after the jury verdict. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“The Department of the Corporation Counsel stands by the merits of the jury’s verdict exonerating the officers,” said Deputy Corporation Counsel Traci Morita. “And should the need arrive, we are prepared to argue those merits again.”

The case stems from a March 2015 incident near Iolani Palace in which Honolulu police officers deployed a Taser three times on Haleck and pepper sprayed him more than a dozen times as they tried to subdue him.

Haleck collapsed and lost consciousness at the scene, and died the following morning. His uncle, Gulstan Silva, sued three police officers — Samantha Critchlow, Christopher Chung and Stephen Kardash.

The case traveled through other levels of court proceedings before it went to trial.

In July 2018, it went before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which agreed with a lower court ruling that found the officers were not acting as “community caretakers,” as the city argued. The city’s lawyers then sought an appellate review from the U.S. Supreme Court, but they were rejected.

The camera on an HPD Taser captured this image of Sheldon Haleck shortly before being arrested in 2015. Honolulu Police Department

During the trial that started in May, attorneys argued about what killed Haleck — a drug-induced state known as excited delirium or the force used by the officers.

An eight-member jury heard testimony from hired experts with connections to the Taser company, Axon Enterprises, over seven days, and after three days of deliberation, concluded that the officers did not use excessive force.

Seitz and his team are taking issue with what the judge ruled could be shown to the jury.

Throughout the trial, attorneys fought to restrict each other’s witnesses, exhibits and even their words, and Gillmor often ruled in favor of the police officer defendants.

For example, the plaintiff’s attorneys pointed to Gillmor limiting the use of the word “homicide,” though it was a medical classification cited in Haleck’s death certificate, and allowing a condition not recognized by most medical organizations to be introduced to the jury.

Haleck’s parents, William and Verdell Haleck, said after the verdict they weren’t done with the case.

“We’ve come this far,” William Haleck said. “Four years. What’s another year?”

Read the family’s motion asking for reconsideration:

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