By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Attorneys received a large portion of the $750,000 settlement Le Sueur County paid to the family of a Kasota man who was shot to death by a deputy in 2009.
A judge ordered the county to issue two settlement checks for the death of 24-year-old Tyler Heilman. He was wearing swim trunks when he got into a physical altercation with Todd Waldron, a Le Sueur County sheriff’s detective who was in plain clothes and driving an unmarked vehicle when he confronted Heilman about traffic violations in Kasota on July 20, 2009.
In a news release issued Thursday, the attorney representing Heilman’s family, James Behrenbrinker, also said he hired an expert who concluded the shooting could not have occurred the way Waldron had described.
Federal Judge John Tunheim ordered the first settlement check be made out to Behrenbrinker and a trust fund in the amount of $525,000. Of that payment, $325,000, or about 43 percent of the $750,000 total, will be used to cover attorneys’ fees, costs and disbursements. The remaining $200,000 will be paid to Heilman’s relatives.
Another settlement check for $225,000 will be issued to MetLife Tower Resources Group to create a trust fund for Tyler Heilman’s son, Haydin, who was 3 years old when his father was killed. Those funds will be invested and used to issue structured payments to Haydin Heilman between June 1, 2024, and Dec. 1, 2055.
The lawsuit was filed against Waldron and Le Sueur County by Tyler Heilman’s father, Mark, in 2011. A grand jury had been called to decide if criminal charges should be filed against Waldron, but decided in November 2009 that the shooting was justified.
Waldron told investigators Heilman knew he was a deputy and attempted to “choke him out” during the confrontation. He said he was able to grab his handgun, which had fallen to the ground, and shoot Heilman in the chest once at close range while they were still wrestling. More shots were fired quickly after Waldron broke away, he said.
A grand jury was called to consider whether homocide charges should be filed. Waldron was not indicted and prosecutors said that showed the deputy was acting in self defense.
In his news release, Behrenbrinker revealed some of the information that was gathered during his investigation of the incident.
The investigation included hiring ballistics expert Richard Ernest from Fort Worth, Texas. Ernest studied the autopsy report for Tyler Heilman, reviewed still shots from a video re-enactment of the incident that Waldron participated in and completed ballistics tests with Waldron’s handgun.
He concluded that Heilman had to have been at least two feet away from Waldron when the first shot was fired. The remaining three shots were fired from a distance of at least four to five feet away.
“Forensic science, the muzzle-to-target distances of each entry wound and the angle of entry of the gunshots, showed that the homicide could not have happened in the manner stated by Deputy Waldron,” Behrenbrinker’s release said.
Behrenbrinker also highlighted a “corroborating witness” who was called by prosecutors to testify before the grand jury. That man told jurors he had happened upon the fight while driving home from work and watched as the two men wrestled. He said the man in swim trunks had the upper hand on the other man before he heard “pop, pop, pop.”
When the witness was interviewed by Behrenbrinker, he said he did not see a gun, did not know what the popping sounds were coming from and didn’t know if anyone had been shot. The man also said he had served time in prison for a serious violent crime and had been convicted for numerous alcohol-related incidents that resulted in jail time.
The total value of the structured payments issued to Haydin Heilman will be nearly $451,000 by the time they end in 2055. He will receive his first payments when he turns 18 in 2024. Starting in June of that year he will begin receiving monthly payments of $806 through 2055.
Starting in August 2024 Haydin Heilman also will receive four annual payments of $15,000. He also will receive lump sum payments of $10,000 in 2029, $35,000 in 2033 and $40,000 in 2040, when he will be 35 years old.