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Update: Haleck family lawsuit against Honolulu police moves slowly

Three of the six Honolulu police officers accused in a civil lawsuit filed by relatives of an American Samoan man who died after being arrested by the officers in downtown Honolulu in March of last year have asked a federal judge to “dismiss with prejudice” the civil case now set to go to trial on June 6, 2017 at the federal court in Honolulu.

The man, Sheldon Paul Haleck, is the son of American Samoa’s former police commissioner William Haleck, who along with Sheldon’s wife and other relatives are plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed Oct. 20 last year at the federal court in Honolulu.

The first three police officers named in the first complaint are Christopher Chung, Samantha Critchlow and Stephen Kardash — and all three filed in February this year a motion denying the allegations, asking the court to dismiss the complaint “with prejudice”.

However, on Mar. 28 this year, the plaintiffs’ first amended complaint was filed at the Honolulu federal court, adding the names of police officers Chad Sano, Reynwood Makishi and Frank Pojsl. According to the amended complaint, Sheldon was allegedly wrongfully seized, denied his liberty and fatally assaulted by the six polices officers in violation of the victim’s constitutional rights.

Late last month (Oct. 21) Sano, Makishi and Pojsl responded to the amended complaint, denying many of the specific allegations arguing that the amended complaint fails to state a claim against them upon which relief can be granted. The defendants also denied, among other things, allegations of assault and battery; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent Infliction of emotional distress; and interference with Sheldon’s civil rights.

The defendants outlined 35 defense arguments in dismissing the case, saying that the officers are entitled to the common law defense of conditional privilege, otherwise known as state qualified immunity.

Additionally, defendants had probable cause to detain, arrest and charge Sheldon, who “was not privileged to resist a lawful arrest and investigation by a police officer.”

The defense further argued that the defendants acted in good faith and belief and without malice in the performance of their duties; and the officers were lawfully and properly in the execution of their duties as authorized by the Hawaii Penal Code and the Hawaii Revised Statutes.

If Sheldon sustained the injuries alleged in the amended complaint, the defense argued that those injuries were the proximate result of such force that the police officers believed to be immediately necessary and reasonable for the purpose of protecting themselves against the use of unlawful force by Sheldon.

The officers are represented by an attorney with the City and County of Honolulu and the attorney reiterated — a couple of times — that the conduct of the officers was without malice, wanton neglect, recklessness, or gross negligence.

The officers asked the court to dismiss the complaint with prejudice and for the defendants to be awarded their costs and attorneys’ fees as well as other relief that it may deem just and equitable.

The plaintiffs had alleged among other things that “Sheldon was dragged along the road to the sidewalk” in down town Honolulu by the six officers and that “Sheldon sustained injuries including but not limited to loss of consciousness, punctures to his chest and back, abrasions to his right forehead, right cheekbone, both feet, both knees, and inner left ankle, and swelling of both hands and both feet.”

As a result of actions by the six police officers, “Sheldon suffered fatal injures and died” the morning of Mar. 17, 2015, they alleged.

As previously reported by Samoa News as well as Hawai’i based news organizations, the Honolulu Medical Examiner’s Office autopsy report states that Sheldon died from “multiple metabolic and cardiac complications” and that he was “acutely intoxicated.”

The plaintiffs are seeking an unspecified amount of general and punitive damages to be proven at trial.

Besides the six officers, other defendants included in the lawsuit are the City and County of Honolulu, and Honolulu police chief Louis M. Kealoha, who have been summoned by plaintiffs to take his deposition in advance of the federal trial.

However, attorneys for the City and County of Honolulu are trying to block the deposition, asking the court on Oct. 28 for an order barring plaintiffs from taking Kealoha’s deposition. They argued that federal court precedent and other federal doctrines clearly prohibit his deposition and that plaintiffs cannot otherwise meet his burden of establishing a valid factual or legal basis for deposing the police chief.  They also requested the court to quash the defense subpoenas issued for Kealoha’s deposition.

On Wednesday this week, two attorneys representing the plaintiffs from a Honolulu law firm, wrote to attorneys for Kealoha with copy of the letter to the federal court, explaining the reasons for deposing the police chief.

Plaintiffs attorneys explained that there is an ample factual basis for believing that Kealoha was informed of Sheldon’s death immediately following the incident on March 16, 2015, that he personally directed Honolulu Police Department’s (HPD) public responses to the incident, managed the flow of information to the media and Sheldon’s family, and reviewed and approved the internal investigation, which entirely absolved his officers of any wrongdoing.

Among the areas to be covered during the deposition is Kealoha's own knowledge of HPD policies and practices: regarding levels of force and, in particular, the use of intermediate levels of force such as tasers and OC spray; dealing with individuals who exhibit symptoms of drug use; and handling persons who may be mentally ill.

No date yet on when the court will issue a decision regarding Kealoha’s deposition. There are depositions already taken or to be taken for both plaintiffs and defendants.