Yoohyun Jung – Honolulu Civil Beat https://www.civilbeat.org Honolulu Civil Beat - Investigative Reporting Wed, 22 May 2019 10:01:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.0.3 Who — Or What — Is To Blame For The Death Of Sheldon Haleck? https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/05/who-or-what-is-to-blame-for-the-death-of-sheldon-haleck/ Wed, 22 May 2019 10:01:21 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1334377 By now, the circumstances of Sheldon Haleck’s death are well known. The question remains who’s to blame. Haleck, a former Hawaii Air National Guardsman, died March 17, 2015, after a violent struggle the night before with Honolulu police officers on South King Street in front of Iolani Palace. Police officers were called to the scene […]

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By now, the circumstances of Sheldon Haleck’s death are well known.

The question remains who’s to blame.

Haleck, a former Hawaii Air National Guardsman, died March 17, 2015, after a violent struggle the night before with Honolulu police officers on South King Street in front of Iolani Palace.

Police officers were called to the scene around 8 p.m., responded to a report of an unidentified man darting through traffic wearing dark clothes.

The camera on an HPD Taser captured Sheldon Haleck with his hands up in the air shortly before being arrested in 2015.

Honolulu Police Department

When they arrived, they found Haleck acting erratically and refusing to leave the roadway.

First they deployed their pepper spray, then they used their Tasers. By the time Haleck was handcuffed, subdued and shackled, he had stopped breathing.

Opening statements are expected Wednesday in a federal civil trial in which Haleck’s family has accused three Honolulu police officers — Christopher Chung, Samantha Critchlow and Stephen Kardash — of using excessive force the night they tried to remove him from King Street.

The officers, on the other hand, say they were just doing their jobs and that Haleck died because he was high on methamphetamine and had other underlying health issues.

Ultimately, the case rests on a simple question: Who’s most responsible for Sheldon Haleck’s death — him or the cops who arrested him?

Eric Seitz, the attorney representing Haleck’s family, said he didn’t want to talk about the specifics of the case on the eve of trial. 

He did say, however, that the lengths the city has gone to defend itself are “unprecedented.”

The fact that Haleck’s case has made it to trial is unique in itself, particularly in Honolulu, where such cases typically end with a cash settlement.

For example, after Honolulu police officers killed Aaron Torres in 2012, city lawyers decided it was more prudent to pay out $1.4 million to Torres’ family than to argue the facts of the case in open court.

The city paid out another $1 million settlement in 2017 in connection to the death of Stephen Dinnan. In that case, an HPD officer and off-duty firefighter mistook Dinnan for a truck thief.

US Supreme Court Declined To Take Case

One of the arguments the city made to try to get the Haleck case dismissed was that the officers were acting as “community caretakers” when they decided to pepper spray him and deploy their Tasers.

The city has argued such force was necessary to protect public safety because Haleck was in the middle of a highly trafficked roadway.

“The worst fear I have is that we lose this case and it emboldens the police to do more and it deters people from holding the police accountable.” — Eric Seitz

When the argument didn’t succeed, city attorneys went to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and then the U.S. Supreme Court, which did not take up the case.

Still, the fact that the city went to the nation’s highest court attracted outside attention, including from the National Association of Police Officers, the International Municipal Lawyers Association and the National Sheriffs’ Association.

Together they filed a legal brief to the Supreme Court in support of the city’s argument.

Seitz said the outside influence didn’t stop there. The city also plans to call as a witness a top official from the Taser company and other hired experts who will argue that Haleck died of a controversial malady known as “excited delirium.”

“The worst fear I have,” Seitz said, “is that we lose this case and it emboldens the police to do more and it deters people from holding the police accountable.”

Traci Morita, one of the city attorneys representing the officers in the case, declined to comment.

What Is Excited Delirium?

The official cause of Haleck’s death, according to an autopsy report, was “multiple metabolic and cardiac complications” following a physical altercation with police. The cause noted Haleck was also “acutely intoxicated” with methamphetamine.

The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, which was used as a medical classification, not proof of the officers’ intent to kill him.

Another term  that came up in the autopsy — and is expected to be an issue during the trial — was “excited delirium.”

The term refers to a syndrome associated with symptoms of agitation, manic excitement, increased pain tolerance and unusual strength, according to a white paper by the American College of Emergency Physicians. It is also often associated with drug abuse and mental illness.

But the exact pathophysiology of the syndrome “remains unidentified,” the white paper also said.

In fact, many medical organizations and manuals do not recognize it as an actual medical diagnosis, including the World Health Organization, American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association.

The term primarily appears in medical examiners’ reports, especially related to law enforcement situations. It’s often tied to restraint methods used by police. Media reports and lawsuits have also linked the syndrome to police incidents involving Tasers.

The first official mention of excited delirium in the Haleck case came in his autopsy report, which was authored by Honolulu’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Christopher Happy.

Hawaii State Supreme Court oral arguments. Attorney Eric Seitz representing the Sierra Club and Sen Clayton Hee petitioners vs. DR Horton-Schuler Homes, The Land Use commission, Office of Planning and Dept of Planning and Permitting . 25 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Eric Seitz represents the family of Sheldon Haleck in a lawsuit against three Honolulu police officers.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

He discussed excited delirium in the autopsy report, but quickly dismissed it as an official cause of death.

“Mr. Haleck displayed many of the signs and symptoms described in this syndrome,” Happy said. “However, there are currently no well established diagnostic criteria for this syndrome and the terminology represents a heterogeneous constellation of medical findings.”

But the city has since hired outside experts in an effort to bolster the idea that Haleck died from excited delirium rather than his scuffle with police.

Among the defense’s lineup of witnesses is Stacey Hail, a Texas-based emergency physician who has written about the relationship between electrical weapons and excited delirium.

A co-author for that article was another witness in the trial, Mark Kroll, a director for Axon Enterprise, Inc., which was formerly known as TASER International.

Another witness due to take the stand is John G. Peters, president of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths and certified Taser instructor. He’s participated in scientific studies on excited delirium and developed lesson plans used to train law enforcement on the syndrome.

John Burton, a California-based attorney, says he’s all too familiar with this “cast of characters.”

Haleck’s family contends the use of excessive force by three HPD officers led to his death. Haleck previously served in the Hawaii Air National Guard.

Submitted

Kroll and Peters have testified together in similar cases before, including recently in Omaha, Nebraska, in a felony assault case against a cop who tased a mentally ill man in 2017.

“They’re sort of, in our field, a line-up of go-to guys for the defense,” Burton said. “We know what they’re going to say before they even say it.”

Burton has worked on police-related death and injury cases for most of his 40-year career, and has encountered Kroll on the witness stand. He said Kroll, who Burton notes is not a medical doctor, has been a leading voice saying Tasers are harmless.

Seitz tried to block excited delirium from being brought up during trial, saying in court filings “it has little scientific support and is typically raised as a defense by police officers when a person dies while in their custody.”

When arguing this point in a proceeding this week, Seitz told U.S. District Court Judge Helen Gillmor, who’s presiding over the case, “What killed him was the interaction with police.”

Morita, however, argued that his pre-existing conditions stemming from excited delirium cannot be ignored.

“Haleck was on this continuum of excited delirium,” she said.

Gillmor issued an order Tuesday denying Seitz’s attempts to block excited delirium and Kroll from testifying.

The trial is expected to last about eight days.

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Gun Group Sues FBI For Records On State Fingerprint Program https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/05/gun-group-sues-fbi-for-records-on-state-fingerprint-program/ Thu, 16 May 2019 10:01:31 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1333838 A Honolulu-based gun rights group is suing the FBI over records it says could show Hawaii is abusing its fingerprint collection program used for criminal background checks. The Hawaii Firearms Coalition filed a public records request seeking communication, transactions and information exchanged between the FBI and the state regarding a state-run program that retains fingerprints […]

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A Honolulu-based gun rights group is suing the FBI over records it says could show Hawaii is abusing its fingerprint collection program used for criminal background checks.

The Hawaii Firearms Coalition filed a public records request seeking communication, transactions and information exchanged between the FBI and the state regarding a state-run program that retains fingerprints of registered gun owners to be included in the federal Rap Back Service database.

The Rap Back Service allows authorized agencies and employers to receive notification of criminal activity about people who work in positions of trust, such as teachers or daycare employees.

A gun rights group wants to know what the state is doing with the fingerprints it collects from firearm registrants.

Marina Riker/Civil Beat

In 2016, Hawaii became the first state to retain fingerprints of registered gun owners for this service. Retention began in December that year, but a state version of the Rap Back program has not launched yet, according to Chris Young, administrator at the state Criminal Justice Data Center, which runs a state version of the Rap Back program.

No fingerprints of registered gun owners were submitted to the FBI, as the federal agency has not decided if Hawaii’s inclusion of firearm registrants’ fingerprints would be permissible, Young said.

That’s one of the points of concern for Andrew Namiki Roberts, director of the Hawaii Firearms Coalition. Among the records his group is seeking are the FBI’s policies on whether registered gun owners’ fingerprints can even be retained for the federal Rap Back Service program.

The way that the state is trying to use the database infringes on the rights of gun owners, Namiki Roberts said. In the coalition’s view, firearm registration applicants simply should not be included.

“We believe the state doesn’t have the authority,” he said.

To register firearms in Hawaii, owners must sign a consent and notification form for the Rap Back Service, and they are also charged a fee of $43.25.

Namiki Roberts said the state has been collecting money from firearm applicants for two years, but it has done nothing to boost public safety.

“If it’s not working, it’s doing nothing,” he said. “It’s just costing the state money.”

Young said there is no separate fee beyond the one that’s required for state and federal background checks, so firearm registrants would have to pay that anyway.

The Hawaii Firearms Coalition made its initial records request to the FBI on April 2. According to federal law, the agency had 20 days to respond. It didn’t, according to Stephen Stamboulieh, a Mississippi-based lawyer who represents the gun group.

“The information we’re asking for shouldn’t be too complicated or shouldn’t be disclosing information that is privileged,” he said.

Stamboulieh and his co-counsel, Alan Beck, are involved in three other weapon-related cases in Hawaii, including one involving a man who sued Hawaii County and the state over denied firearm licenses. They also represent Namiki Roberts in a case involving his ability to own guns as a non-U.S. citizen.

The FBI gets sued on a regular basis regarding public records requests. In fiscal year 2018, 78 suits were filed against the agency, according to the FOIA Project, a Syracuse University research program that tracks cases challenging the government’s withholding of information.

The FBI’s own report on Freedom of Information Act requests showed that the agency processed more than 27,000 requests during fiscal year 2017.

“It can take time to get the documents,” Stamboulieh said. “But I always get the documents.”

The FBI has until June 5 to file a response to the Hawaii gun group’s complaint to the federal court.

Read the complaint here:

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Hundreds Of Potential Jurors Screened On Opening Day Of Kealoha Trial https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/05/kealoha-trial-begins-with-screening-hundreds-of-potential-jurors/ Tue, 14 May 2019 00:24:30 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1333214 With a slight wave, retired Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha introduced himself to more than 400 prospective jurors gathered at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center, 12 of whom will be picked to decide his fate. Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, who’s a former city prosecutor, face a series of federal charges for allegedly framing her […]

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With a slight wave, retired Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha introduced himself to more than 400 prospective jurors gathered at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center, 12 of whom will be picked to decide his fate.

Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, who’s a former city prosecutor, face a series of federal charges for allegedly framing her uncle, Gerard Puana, for the theft of their mailbox using the help of a special team of police officers.

Three of those officers, Derek Hahn, Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen and Gordan Shiraishi, are standing trial with the Kealohas.

Former HPD Police Chief Louis Kealoha and Katherine Kealoha leave Blaisdell.

Former Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, leave the Blaisdell Center after the first day of jury selection in their criminal trial.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The five defendants appeared briefly at the Blaisdell Center for the first day of jury selection. While most stared straight ahead, it was Louis Kealoha, dressed in a suit and tie, who turned to face the crowd.

Due to the high profile nature of the case, the court sent out 1,500 notifications to potential jurors.

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Of those, more than 400 were called to the Pikake Room at the Blaisdell Center to fill out a questionnaire that will be used to help select the 12 individuals who will hear evidence in the case.

The U.S. District Court in downtown Honolulu did not have the space to accommodate that many people.

District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright, draped in black robes, greeted the jurors at the Blaisdell Center from behind a wooden dais.

He then explained the importance of jury duty and implored his audience to avoid any outside discussion of the case.

“That means do not read, watch or listen to any news,” Seabright said. “This is an order. It’s not optional.”

The case is unprecedented in many respects, and the venue for the first day of jury selection was just one more reminder.

The federal investigation, which now includes multiple indictments, has reached far beyond the mailbox conspiracy.

The Kealohas face an additional trial for their alleged financial misdeeds.

Katherine Kealoha also faces charges related to allegations she and her younger brother, Rudolph Puana, ran a prescription drug ring and that Kealoha used her position as a city prosecutor to keep it hidden.

Lian Abernathy, the chief deputy clerk for the U.S. District Court of Hawaii, wheels more than 400 jury questionnaires out of the Neal S. Blaisdell Center.

Nick Grube/Civil Beat

The prospective jurors spent about an hour Monday answering a 13-page questionnaire that sought details about their own personal backgrounds and their views on the defendants.

The packet also included 14 pages of potential witnesses in the case.

Of the 31 questions, five concerned prior media coverage of the case and jurors’ prior knowledge of the charges faced by the defendants, including whether the jurors had formed any opinions as to their guilt or innocence.

Another question asked whether any of the jurors have ever had mail stolen from their mailboxes.

According to court officials, the questionnaires will be used to whittle the pool of 413 prospective jurors down to about 45 people who will then be asked to return for ongoing jury selection proceedings.

That process is expected to take several days and could start as soon as this week at the U.S. District Court in downtown Honolulu.

An hour after Seabright left the potential jurors to answer the questionnaires, the line waiting for a taxi outside the Blaisdell Center had exceeded the number of people left in the Pikake Room filling them out.

The Kealohas and their attorneys, Rustam Barbee and Cynthia Kagiwada, declined to speak with Civil Beat after Monday’s proceeding. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat, who is the special prosecutor in the case, also declined to comment.

The opening statements for the trial are set to begin as early as May 22.

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Cops, Prosecutors Want Gov To Veto Seized Property Bill https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/05/cops-prosecutors-want-gov-to-veto-seized-property-bill/ Fri, 10 May 2019 10:01:18 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1332397 A measure to reform the state’s heavily criticized civil asset forfeiture program has cleared the Legislature, but now sits on the governor’s desk with no apparent signs of whether it will become law. Supporters are urging Gov. David Ige to sign it while police and prosecutors, who would lose substantial amounts of money, want him […]

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A measure to reform the state’s heavily criticized civil asset forfeiture program has cleared the Legislature, but now sits on the governor’s desk with no apparent signs of whether it will become law.

Supporters are urging Gov. David Ige to sign it while police and prosecutors, who would lose substantial amounts of money, want him to veto it.

The bill would change whose property can be forfeited and redirect the proceeds of forfeited property from the state Attorney General’s office to the general fund.

In fiscal year 2017, the estimated value of forfeitures ordered by law enforcement agencies across the state was about $661,000, according to the program’s latest annual report. Honolulu and Maui County police departments were two of the biggest law enforcement beneficiaries that year.

Rosen Auctions auctioneer takes bids from audience during the AG offices' auction of forfeited property held at Neal Blaisdell Exhibition Hall. 9 april 2016.

An auctioneer takes bids from the audience during an attorney general sale of seized property at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall in 2016.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Civil asset forfeiture, a practice used by law enforcement agencies to seize property they suspect has been used to commit crime, has drawn widespread criticism nationwide from across the political spectrum for what critics say is a lack of due process.

In February, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution sets limits on states’ and municipalities’ ability to seize property allegedly involved in crimes under the Eighth Amendment, which bars excessive fines.

One of the biggest changes the reform bill for Hawaii’s program would bring about, if signed into law, is to require a felony conviction before law enforcement officials can seize property. As it stands, state law allows agencies to take property without a court hearing or any criminal charges filed.

A June 2018 state audit of the current civil asset forfeiture program found that in 26% of the cases in fiscal year 2015, property was forfeited without a corresponding criminal charge. In another 4% of cases, charges were dismissed.

“They took a whole bunch of assets from legally innocent people,” said Rep. Joy San Buenaventura, a main sponsor of the bill. “It’s basically legalized theft by the police, and that’s wrong.”

The audit makes it evident that the program needs reform, she said. It also pointed out a slew of other problems, including failing to account for forfeited property, mismanaging program funds, failing to allocate 20% of the proceeds for drug prevention as is required by law, and failing to establish administrative rules.

“The audit shows that the attorney general was lackadaisical in handling assets,” San Buenaventura said.

Another major change would require the Attorney General’s office to use half of the forfeited property and proceeds from its sale on drug diversion programs, and the other half to go to the state general fund. Currently, half of the proceeds go to the AG’s office and the other half is split by police departments and prosecutors offices.

The AG’s office funds, in part, the program’s costs and the salaries of staff members with its 50% allocation. In February, the department testified at the Legislature that the reform would “gut the revolving criminal forfeiture funds.”

The Attorney General’s office did not respond to requests for an interview, but a spokesman told Civil Beat the department remains in opposition.

Law enforcement agencies can use the money to pay for such things as equipment and training. For example, the Honolulu Police Department, which opposed the bill, uses it to pay for partial tuition reimbursement and for officers who take police-related classes and training, according to Michelle Yu, an HPD spokeswoman.

“If House Bill 748 passes, this program will be discontinued,” she said in an emailed statement. “HPD supports the veto of this bill.”

Opponents of the program say it motivates law enforcement agencies to “police for profit.”

“If they’re relying on this in any way, then that’s a good reason for reform,” said Mandy Fernandes, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii. These funds are unstable by nature and vary year to year, and the fact that agencies stand to gain 25 percent of the proceeds might influence how the law is enforced.

Redirecting the proceeds to the state’s general fund would “dilute the profit incentive,” she said.

The Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office declined to comment, but previously told the Legislature in testimony that “concerns about ‘innocent owners’ being deprived of their property or ‘policing for profit’ are unfounded.”

“We are confident that property is being seized and forfeited fairly and equitably and the abuse present in other jurisdictions simply does not exist here,” the prosecutor’s office added.

The department plans on sending a letter to the governor urging him to veto the bill, spokesman Brooks Behr said.

Members of the public / potential bidders view some of the jewelry and other valuables in covered containers before the AG offices' auction of forfeited property held at Neal Blaisdell Exhibition Hall. 9 april 2016.

Jewelry and other items were on sale at this 2016 auction of seized property. A bill approved by the Legislature and awaiting Gov. David Ige’s signature would change the state’s asset forfeiture laws.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The governor has not indicated whether he intends to sign or veto the bill, his spokeswoman said. Ige has plenty of time to decide; if he plans to veto it, he just needs to let the Legislature know by June 24.

This is San Buenaventura’s second crack at getting an asset forfeiture reform bill passed. An attorney herself, she tried unsuccessfully in 2015, and she said she’s not surprised that prosecutors want to see the latest effort vetoed.

But she said she’s pushing on because it continues to be a problem in her district on the Big Island. She’s heard from families having their generators and vehicles seized, both of which they depend on for daily life, because someone in the family was suspected of a crime.

“We’re not saying to remove asset forfeiture altogether,” she said. “We’re just saying let’s make sure you’re taking them away from criminals and not innocent people.”

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New Magistrate Judge Selected For District Of Hawaii https://www.civilbeat.org/beat/new-magistrate-judge-selected-for-district-of-hawaii/ Tue, 07 May 2019 03:25:17 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?post_type=beat&p=1331900 A new magistrate judge will start Wednesday at the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii. Wes Reber Porter replaces Magistrate Judge Richard Puglisi, who retired at the end of March, the district court said in a news release Monday. Porter has worked in various roles across federal legal branches, including as a senior […]

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A new magistrate judge will start Wednesday at the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii.

Wes Reber Porter replaces Magistrate Judge Richard Puglisi, who retired at the end of March, the district court said in a news release Monday.

Porter has worked in various roles across federal legal branches, including as a senior trial attorney in the fraud section of the Department of Justice’s criminal division.

Between 2002 and 2006, he also served as an assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii, prosecuting crimes such as violent and drug offenses and white collar crimes.

Most recently, Porter served as the president and CEO of Damien Memorial School, a private college preparatory school in Kalihi, as well as teaching legal courses as a visiting professor at the University of Hawaii’s law school.

Porter will begin his eight-year term on May 8.

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Former US Army Official Pleads Guilty In Conspiracy Case https://www.civilbeat.org/beat/former-u-s-army-official-pleads-guilty-in-conspiracy-case/ Fri, 03 May 2019 00:15:16 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?post_type=beat&p=1331338 A former U.S. Army range operations manager at Hawaii’s Schofield Barracks pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring to accept bribes and disclosing procurement information. Franklin Raby, 67, of Greeneville, Tenn., admitted to receiving tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of bribes between March 2015 and May 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a news […]

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A former U.S. Army range operations manager at Hawaii’s Schofield Barracks pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring to accept bribes and disclosing procurement information.

Franklin Raby, 67, of Greeneville, Tenn., admitted to receiving tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of bribes between March 2015 and May 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a news release.

Raby pleaded guilty to a district court judge in Tennessee.

The bribes included an antique car from a contractor seeking and receiving business deals with the U.S. Army.

In exchange for the bribe, Raby gave out internal procurement information from the U.S. Department of Defense and otherwise used his position to help the contractor win U.S. Army contracts, according to his plea agreement.

Raby’s sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 5, 2019.

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