The widow of Lindani Myeni, a 29-year-old unarmed Black man shot dead by Honolulu police last week, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city.
The complaint alleges that officers were negligent when responding to a call about an alleged burglary and approached Myeni without lights or sirens, didn’t announce themselves as police and shined lights in his face.
Jim Bickerton, attorney for widow Lindsay Myeni, disputed the police narrative that Lindani was shot after an attempted burglary.
“He was unarmed, took his shoes off, parked his car there,” Bickerton said at a press conference Thursday. “Does that sound like a burglary to you?”
The lawsuit states that Myeni, a former rugby player, may have believed he was being mugged and therefore defended himself, ultimately injuring three police officers.
Bickerton emphasized the Maglite flashlights the officers used were blinding.
“Now if they say, sir excuse me, we are investigating a burglary, can you stand still, show us your hands and don’t make a move, we are the police, that’s a very different story,” Bickerton said at the press conference. He added that he believes that if Myeni were not Black, he would have been treated with more respect.
“You can hear it in the tone of the officer addressing a Black man, treating him like he is nothing. ‘Get on the ground!’ Not even worth being given the information that I am a police officer. It’s outrageous,” Bickerton said.
HPD says the officers were in uniform and were driving marked police cars. HPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. The case is currently under investigation.
Acting Deputy Chief Allan Nagata previously said that he was impressed with the officers’ response and that they did not overreact.
“They were in the fight for their lives, let me be clear with you,” Nagata said.
A 55-second clip of police body camera footage released last week shows that shortly before the shooting happened after 8 p.m., it was dark, and a woman was shouting “That’s him!”
The officer’s flashlight illuminates Myeni and the officer raises his gun, yelling, “Get on the ground now!” He repeats the order several times.
Another officer approaches from behind, and Myeni walks toward the first officer. A struggle ensues, and it’s unclear from the video what exactly is happening. Someone uses profanity, which is bleeped out on the video.
Bickerton said Thursday that Myeni was defending himself against the officers who hadn’t announced themselves.
“The officers knew or reasonably should have known that Mr. Myeni would perceive a blinding flashlight, the pointing of a gun at him, and the disrespectful and aggressive commands to ‘get on the ground’ without any announcement of police identity or purpose, as a threat to his life,” the lawsuit states.
Bickerton said the lawsuit was filed quickly because of HPD’s failure to respond to the family’s requests for information including the 911 tapes, the computer-assisted dispatch tapes and complete body-cam tapes.
The Myeni family is also seeking the security footage from the house whose occupant called 911.
The police department is holding Myeni’s phone as evidence and will not return his wedding ring or other personal effects to his wife, according to Bickerton.
Lindsay Myeni urged anyone with any information about the shooting to come forward.
She said on the day he died, she and her husband, their 5-month-old daughter and 18-month-old son had spent the day at the beach in Laie.
When they got home, she said Myeni went out for a walk to clear his head after learning that he was next in line to be king of the district in South Africa where he was from. He was also preparing for his green card interview after a year and a half of waiting for it.
Bickerton said the property that Myeni allegedly entered was a four-room vacation rental and is right next to a temple. He believes it’s possible Myeni could have gotten the two mixed up. But Bickerton acknowledged he doesn’t know why Myeni was at that house and said that’s why they’re asking HPD for information.
Another lawyer on the case, Bridget Morgan-Bickerton, said the burden is on the Honolulu Police Department to show they were justified in their actions, but they have not done so.
Lindsay Myeni, who is white and grew up in Hawaii, said she believes race was a factor in her husband’s death. She said he was racially profiled by police in Denver before they moved to Honolulu and one reason they moved to Honolulu was to escape that.
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.