HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Honolulu police officers used excessive force during a deadly tasing near Iolani Palace in 2015.
Sheldon Haleck, 38, was wandering in the middle of the street unarmed when officers pepper sprayed him at least eight times and then shot him with a taser three times.
The Ninth Circuit determined it unconstitutional, clearing the way for a lawsuit against HPD.
The medical examiner said meth in Haleck's system combined with the effects of the taser caused his death, but ruled his death a homicide.
Attorney for the family, Eric Seitz, said that means the officers are ultimately responsible for Haleck's death.
"They could have pushed him, they could have hit him, they could have tackled him, they could have wrestled him to the ground," said Seitz. "But by using the pepper spray and the tasers, which are defined by the courts as 'intermediate levels of force,' they had to have a rational basis to believe that he was a danger to them or others and there was no evidence of that."
Officers said the Kaiser High graduate had been running down King Street that night around 8:15 p.m. and repeatedly dodging officers as they tried to catch him.
But the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the officers' conduct unconstitutional and excessive because Haleck wasn't committing any serious crime, he was not an immediate threat to himself or others, and he was never told he was under arrest.
The appeals court ruling comes after three officers tried to get the case dismissed.
The city wouldn't provide any interviews on the ruling, but video of the hearing shows a city attorney arguing the case in federal court last month.
"On March 16, 2015, every reasonable officer would have believed it was constitutionally permissible to utilize intermediate level force on a non-compliant suspect in a middle of a busy six-lane roadway," Deputy Corporation Counsel Traci Morita said.
The appeals court ruling also clarified that Haleck was not a threat to traffic.
Law enforcement expert Tommy Aiu said this may be a game changer for future HPD policy.
"The police department will probably have to revisit on how it uses or deploys less-than-lethal force based on the criteria of this ruling," Aiu said.
HPD said it is presently reviewing the ruling with city attorneys.
Seitz said he hopes the ruling will incline the city to settle the lawsuit for about $6 million. If not, he said he will reset it for trial.