As supporters rallied outside the state courthouse, three Honolulu police officers facing charges in connection with the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap made their first court appearance Friday morning.
During the brief in-person appearance, a preliminary hearing was scheduled for July 20. At the preliminary hearing, the prosecution and defense are expected to present their cases on whether probable cause exists and a trial is warranted, the prosecutor’s office said earlier this month.
Prosecutor Christopher Van Marter said his office would share case materials with the court and opposing counsel by July 13.
Geoffrey Thom, an officer with five years on the force, is facing the most serious charge: one count of murder in the second degree for shooting Sykap eight times through the back window of the car the teen was driving.
Zackary Ah Nee was charged with one count of attempted murder in the second degree for allegedly shooting a passenger in the car, Iremamber Sykap’s brother Mark Sykap. Ah Nee has been with HPD for three years.
And Christopher Fredeluces, who is accused of shooting at Iremamber Sykap at “point-blank range,” is charged with one count of attempted murder in the second degree. He has served 10 years with HPD.
Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm charged the officers after a grand jury declined to indict them.
The officers did not speak during the court appearance before Judge Clarence Pacarro.
In a joint statement, the officers’ attorneys — Richard Sing, Thomas Otake and Crystal Glendon — said their clients want to thank the community for an “overwhelming outpouring of support.”
“It is clear that most in our community believe that filing these charges after an independent grand jury rejected them is concerning, to say the very least,” they said. “While we recognize the tragedy of this situation, we as their attorneys will do all that we can to prevent wrongful convictions in this case.”
Officers shot at a car Sykap was driving at Kalakaua Avenue and Philip Street on April 5. Police said they were pursuing him because the vehicle was reported stolen and had been tied to crimes.
Thom said he shot to protect himself, fellow officers and the public and that Sykap’s car rammed his patrol car, according to Alm’s charging documents. Prosecutors dispute that, citing body camera footage and only minor damage to vehicles, and stated in the complaint that Thom shot without provocation.
Ah Nee reported that he thought he saw the butt of a gun in Mark Sykap’s lap, charging documents say. Prosecutors say that is not supported by body camera footage.
And Fredeluces said that he discharged his firearm because he heard gunfire that he thought was coming from within the suspect’s vehicle. Prosecutors said the shots were coming from his colleagues.
At the Hawaii District Court Friday morning, hundreds of police supporters gathered to support the charged officers.
People wore State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers and Longshoreman Brotherhood T-shirts and held signs that said “Thank a cop,” “We back the blue” and “grand jury > Alm.” Drivers passing by honked their horns in support.
As Thom, Ah Nee and Fredeluces left the courthouse with their attorneys, the crowd clapped, whistled and chanted: “Free the three!”
One demonstrator, Mayjah Brown, said he showed up to “back the blue.” He said he’s not an officer, but has friends and family on the force.
“They had to make a judgment call, and this is in the line of duty,” he said. “A lot of people like to armchair quarterback, they always criticize. We’re here to show support.”
Niko Vitale, a longshoreman, said he came out to support the police officers.
“The truth is HPD was doing their job, and they had to do what they had to do,” he said. “They were only protecting their community.”
Another longshoreman, Kea Chun, agreed.
“Our police are just defending us, defending everybody, even the criminals themselves,” he said.
Across the street, a smaller protest of Sykap family members and supporters faced the pro-police crowd, ringing cow bells and holding signs, including one saying “Justice for Iremamber.”
Kaimiola Sykap, Iremamber’s 23-year-old sister, was there. She said standing outside the courthouse was “emotional.”
Liz Rees, a teacher, stood nearby holding a sign saying “Back Da Truth.”
“We’re out here fighting for justice for Iremamber Sykap and we think it’s important that HPD has accountability and there’s transparency,” she said.
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