Crime & Courts

Family sues Shawnee Co. sheriff

TOPEKA — Shawnee County deputies who used a Taser on a man shortly before he died at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. in Topeka acted reasonably, attorneys said in court documents seeking dismissal of a federal lawsuit.

Walter E. Haake Jr., 59, of Lawrence, died March 29, 2008, after he was shocked three times when he refused medical help in the plant's parking lot. Haake's family filed a wrongful death suit seeking $100 million, alleging that the officers used unreasonable and deadly force against him.

The lawsuit names deputies Jason Mills and Shayna Johnson, Sheriff Dick Barta and Shawnee County. Attorneys for all the defendants filed motions seeking dismissal of the lawsuit.

According to court records, Haake appeared disoriented and refused medical help when officers arrived at the plant. He also wrapped an arm through his vehicle's steering wheel before Johnson used a Taser on him to relax his grip.

Once he was removed from the vehicle, Haake was held face-down and handcuffed. County Coroner Erik Mitchell concluded that Haake died accidentally as a result of compression of the torso combined with cardiac disease.

Haake's widow, Patricia Haake, and three children filed the lawsuit in October 2008. Taser International, of Wilmington, Del., was dropped from the lawsuit last September. The suit alleges Mills and Johnson deprived Haake of his rights by using unreasonable, excessive and deadly force.

Attorneys for Barta and Shawnee County argue that the deputies acted reasonably. But they said if the judge concludes that deputies deprived Haake of his rights, the Sheriff's Office's policies "were not the moving force behind the constitutional deprivation."

U.S. Magistrate David A. Waxse has scheduled a trial in the case to begin Aug. 2 at the federal courthouse in Kansas City, Kan.