SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Dan Haugen, a writer for the Argus Leader recently reported on a fistfight on the roof of the Empire Mall that had Kim Halverson, a technician with Empire HVAC, a Sioux Falls heating and air conditioning contractor, sentenced to one year in prison for assaulting a competing company's worker during a confrontation above the shopping mall this past summer. Empire HVAC once handled all repair and maintenance for the mall's ventilation systems, however, the company had recently lost the major contract bid to Carrier Commercial Service of Omaha, said prosecutor Tom Hensley.

According to a pending civil lawsuit complaint, Empire HVAC employees harassed Carrier workers in an effort to discourage them from doing their jobs at the mall. Halverson's lawyer denied the intimidation allegation in court filings. James Kirlin, a Carrier employee who filed the lawsuit, claims the situation escalated when, according to the complaint, Kelly Cawthorne, owner of Empire HVAC, angrily accused Kirlin of "taking food out of our babies' mouths."

Later, Kirlin was on the roof removing air filters from a storage area when he was confronted by Halverson. A shopping mall manager gave Kirlin permission to use the filters, but Halverson said he thought they belonged to his boss, according to court documents.

"He asked me what I was doing," Kirlin wrote in a protection-order petition. "He said they were his filters and started putting them back in the storage facility."

After an exchange of words, Halverson slammed Kirlin against a wall and repeatedly punched and kicked him until Kirlin was unconscious and continued kicking Kirlin in the head, causing severe injuries.

The complaint alleges Empire HVAC encouraged the violence against Kirlin. "Fist fighting was not in any job description, verbal or written, ever given to Halverson by Cawthorne," attorney Charles Dorothy wrote.

Publication date: 02/20/2006