Minutes before a Honolulu police officer shot and killed Dana Brown, he warned him about what might happen if he didn’t stop trying to run away.
Using a profanity, he told him to get on the ground or he would shoot him.
The words, captured by the officer’s body-worn camera on Dec. 17, 2019, are among the reasons why Brown’s family now wants the officer who killed him to face criminal charges.
The family’s attorney, Megan Kau, sent a letter to Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm in April asking him to consider prosecuting the case. Kau said she has yet to receive a response from Alm’s office.
If Alm decides to file charges, it would be the first time in at least 30 years that a Honolulu officer will be prosecuted for killing a suspect in the line of duty.
“I don’t usually think police officers should be charged, but this officer was not facing any threat of death or serious bodily injury,” Kau said. “I understand that there was a knife involved, but by the time the police officer shoots Dana that threat had been removed.”
Kau described the department’s official narrative of the events leading up to Brown’s death as deeply flawed.
Acting Honolulu Police Chief Rade Vanic declined a request for an interview. Michelle Yu, who is a spokesperson for the department, said its internal investigation is “nearly complete.”
Brown, 27, was killed after officials say an HPD officer saw him riding a moped at night on the wrong side of the road near Campbell Industrial Park.
After the shooting, then-HPD Chief Susan Ballard held a press conference in which she said Brown was “brandishing” a knife at the officer and daring him to “take a shot.”
Ballard released approximately three minutes worth of body camera footage that showed the events leading up to Brown’s death, although she said the video did not capture two critical moments — Brown’s alleged attempt to lunge at the officer with a knife and the officer’s three shots to his body.
Ballard refused to release the name of the officer involved, only describing him as a 13-year veteran assigned to District 8, which serves Kapolei and Waianae.
She said the officer shot Brown after he repeatedly demanded that Brown drop the knife and attempted twice to “de-escalate the situation” with his Taser.
“Our officers do not have the benefit of instant replay,” Ballard said. “They’re called upon to make split-second decisions in situations that are tense, dangerous and rapidly evolving. Circumstances can change in a second.”
Kau, a former prosecutor, disputes HPD’s version of events.
The fact that the officer yelled out that he was going to shoot Brown from the beginning of the video is particularly problematic, she said. Brown did not appear to be threatening the officer. Mostly, she said, he appeared to be trying to start the moped so that he could get away.
During the press conference, Ballard pointed out that Brown had a criminal past, which included an outstanding warrant for abuse of a family member. She also said the moped he was riding that night had been reported stolen.
Those circumstances, Kau said, are irrelevant to what happened the night Brown was killed.
“Even if Dana was running away on a stolen moped, the officer is not justified in shooting him,” she said.
In her letter to Alm, Kau wrote that she wanted him to review the case “in light of the national climate regarding police officer shootings.”
Kau campaigned against Alm for Honolulu prosecuting attorney in 2020 on a tough-on-crime platform, saying she did not believe that there were systemic racial inequities in the criminal justice system.
The fact that she’s taking on Brown’s case, she said, should speak volumes about how she views the actions of the officer involved in his death.
“If a police officer does something wrong, he or she should be charged,” Kau said. “As soon as I saw the body camera video, I said I would take the case.”
She said the actions of the officer in Brown’s case are more extreme than what happened in the recent shooting death of Lindani Myeni, a 29-year-old Black man from South Africa who was killed by HPD officers after they responded to the report of an alleged burglary.
While the case sparked community-wide discussion about racial profiling and a wrongful death lawsuit from Myeni’s wife, Kau said she would not have taken the case because from her perspective the officers appear to have responded within the bounds of the law.
“I do not believe that Lindani Myeni was shot because he was Black,” Kau said. “I believe he was shot because he broke the face of a police officer and because he did not comply with an officer’s commands.”
Alm declined a Civil Beat request for an interview. His office said through a spokesman that it has yet to review Brown’s case and is waiting for documents from HPD.
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