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No punitive damages will be awarded in Haleck lawsuit

U.S. Federal District Courthouse in Honolulu
Halecks were asking for punitive damages of $10M and special damages of $1M

Honolulu, HAWAII — A written decision by a federal judge in Honolulu provides some details of civilian and medical experts’ testimonies during the trial of 3 Honolulu police officers who, according to a federal jury, didn’t use excessive force against an American Samoan man who died 4 years ago in downtown Honolulu, after being arrested by the officers.

The jury on June 6 “found that the Defendants did not use excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment” of the U.S. Constitution pertaining to the deceased, wrote US District Court Judge Helen Gillmore, who presided over the trial.

The June 19th written order addresses the “punitive damages” issue that was not addressed by the court during a hearing held at the time of the trial.

And the reason for not addressing the punitive damages issue - was that the judge wanted to await the outcome of the jury’s decision, following the 7-day trial.

As previously reported by Samoa News, 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.

Plaintiffs alleged, among other things, that Haleck “was subjected to excessive force” by Honolulu police officers: Christopher Chung, Samantha Critchlow, and Stephen Kardash. Excess force, according to the plaintiffs, included - among other things - the use of pepper spray and multiple uses of the Taser.

Gillmore’s written order provides some details of testimonies during the trial. For example, the judge points out that the “officers’ testimony does not support a find that they acted with a reckless or callous indifference to the constitutional rights of the deceased.”

The judge also cited two eyewitnesses - Sandy Apana and Chad Kumagai - who testified regarding the Mar. 16, 2015 incident.

“Their testimony does not support a finding that the Defendants acted with any reckless or callous indifference to the constitutional rights of the [deceased] or that the Officers were driven by evil motive or intent,” the judge wrote.

Regarding the use of pepper spray, the judge notes that there “is no testimony that the Defendants’ use of pepper spray had any effect” on the deceased, who continued to evade the officers and continued to refuse to obey their commands, despite the use of pepper spray.

Regarding the use of the Taser, the judge explained that Taser expert Dr. Mark Kroll testified that Haleck “could have received a maximum of one second of shock from the Taser”. Additionally, the Taser did not cause any incapacitation of the deceased.

“The Taser videos show that the Taser did not cause any neuromuscular incapacitation” of the deceased, who continued to freely move around after the deployments of the Taser, the judge wrote, noting that Haleck’s muscles did not seize up as a result of the use of the Taser.

There was also medical testimony during the trial, and according to Gillmore’s written order, there “is no medical testimony that the use of the Taser caused” Haleck’s death.

Christopher Happy, the pathologist who conducted the autopsy, testified that the “Taser did not play any part” in Haleck’s death. And this was the same testimony from medical expert, Dr. Stacey Hail.

Dr. Irminne Van Dyken, a treating physician at Queen’s Medical Center on the night of the incident, testified that “she removed two Taser probes from the decedent at the emergency room”.

She testified that she “had no basis to know how the probes got in [Haleck’s] back. She stated that she did not know if the Taser was used, if it worked, or if it caused [Haleck] to be incapacitated,” the judge said.

It was noted that Dr. Van Dyken was not called as an expert in this case, and she did not provide an opinion as to the cause of death.

Regarding punitive damages sought, the judge said there is “no evidence presented during the trial that would allow a reasonable jury to award punitive damages in this case.”

In conclusion, Gillmore wrote, “there is no evidence to provide a reasonable jury with a basis to find that the Officers acted wantonly, oppressively, maliciously, or with reckless disregard to the [deceased] rights.”

In their civil lawsuit, the plaintiffs sought “general and punitive damages of ten million dollars and special damages in the amount of one million dollars for lost earnings and medical expenses.”

Haleck’s death was officially ruled a “homicide” by the Honolulu medical examiner in a June 24, 2015 “Autopsy Report”, according to court records and the plaintiffs.

The defendants have long argued that, among other things, their “actions were not the proximate cause of Haleck’s death.”