HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Three Honolulu police officers didn’t use excessive force in a 2015 arrest that left a 38-year-old man dead, a federal jury has concluded.
The family of Sheldon Haleck sued the officers in their individual capacities in federal court after the city chose not to settle. Jurors decided that all three officers were not liable in the civil case.
Haleck was high on methamphetamine at the time of his arrest in Downtown Honolulu.
“We are ... happy for these officers who we feel have been vindicated," said city Deputy Corporation Counsel Traci Morita, after the decision came down Thursday afternoon.
“The actions of these officers were reasonable.”
The attorney for Haleck’s family, meanwhile, said he plans to appeal, saying federal Judge Helen Gillmor was biased.
“This is the worst trial I have sat through in terms of the performance of the judge and we did not get a fair hearing," said lawyer Eric Seitz.
Seitz said Haleck wasn’t threatening anyone when officers pepper-sprayed him about a dozen times and shot him with a Taser gun as many as three times.
He became unresponsive after being cuffed, was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead the following morning.
The officers said they used reasonable force, and that they arrested Haleck because he was in the middle of a major street.
“The threat there was that there were vehicles in the area and we could be hit at any time,” Officer Christopher Chung testified.
Chung said he sprayed Haleck once, but it didn’t seem to have an effect on him.
Officer Samantha Critchlow said she pepper-sprayed Haleck four to five times, but she wasn’t sure the spray directly hit him. She called the level of force “very reasonable” given the circumstances.
“I went there to back up my officer, my fellow officer,” she said, choking up with tears. “Would have been simple like that ― just get him out of the road. But it didn’t happen that way.”
The appeal will likely focus on testimony by the city’s medical expert that Seitz said shouldn’t be allowed.
Even though his death was ruled a homicide, the city’s expert said Haleck died as a result of excessive delirium syndrome, which was triggered by meth.
It’s a controversial theory often used to defend police accused of using excessive force.
“It really is just junk science ... to me it should not have been admitted into evidence," said Ken Lawson, of the University of Hawaii’s law school.