A Honolulu police officer has been charged with murder and two others charged with attempted murder related to the April 5 shooting of 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap.
Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm announced the charges on Tuesday afternoon in a press release after he filed criminal complaints in District Court.
Officers shot Sykap at Kalakaua Avenue and Philip Street as they were pursuing the vehicle he was driving, which the police department alleged was stolen.
Geoffrey Thom, 42, was charged with one count of murder in the second degree for Sykap’s death. If convicted, he will face a mandatory sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole. Thom has been with HPD for five years.
Zackary Ah Nee, 26, was charged with one count of attempted murder in the second degree for allegedly shooting Iremamber’s older brother Mark Sykap, who was a passenger in the car police were pursuing. Ah Nee, who’s been with HPD for three years, faces a potential mandatory sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Christopher Fredeluces, 40, was charged with one count of attempted murder in the second degree for shooting at Iremamber Sykap at “point-blank range.” If convicted, he would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole. He is a 10-year veteran of HPD.
“If convicted, the officers will each serve mandatory minimum prison terms of 20 years without the possibility of parole due to their use of semi-automatic firearms in connection with the alleged offenses,” Alm’s office said in a press release.
The District Court issued a summons to compel the officers to make a June 25 court appearance. A preliminary hearing will be scheduled for each officer 30 days after that appearance, according to Alm’s office.
The judge at the preliminary hearing will decide if there is probable cause to allow the case to go to trial, Alm spokesman Matt Dvonch said.
Evidence such as body-worn camera footage and ballistics reports will be introduced at the preliminary hearing but not released to the public before then, Alm’s office said.
“Thom, Ah Nee, and Fredeluces are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty,” Alm’s office said.
This is the first time in decades that the Honolulu prosecutor has charged an HPD officer for on-duty use of force, according to Alm’s office.
Alm’s announcement of charges came after a grand jury empaneled by his office declined to indict the officers last week.
In a grand jury, prosecutors present their case in a secret proceeding, and the grand jurors decide whether to indict or file charges. The defense isn’t present. In a preliminary hearing, a judge makes a determination about whether probable cause exists. Unlike in a grand jury, the defense can present evidence and cross-examine witnesses.
“The evidence supports the conclusion that the defendants’ use of deadly force in this case was unnecessary, unreasonable and unjustified under the law,” the criminal complaints say.
Dvonch said Alm will hold a press conference after the preliminary hearing in a few weeks.
On Tuesday, Interim HPD Chief Rade Vanic called the charges “highly unusual” and said the department is not aware of “a similar action having been taken in the past.”
“We are surprised by the Prosecuting Attorney’s announcement to seek charges against the officers after a grand jury comprised of citizens decided not to indict them,” he said in a statement. “While we await the court’s decision, we will continue to protect and serve the community as we have always done.”
In a statement of his own, Mayor Rick Blangiardi didn’t take a stance on the case.
“The complaints against three Honolulu Police Officers involved in the April 5 incident are a very serious matter,” he said. “As stated previously, the Mayor’s Office does not involve itself with law enforcement investigations or court proceedings. I fully understand and recognize this is a very difficult situation for everyone involved in this case. We await both sides making their arguments in court, consequently I have no further comment at this time.”
Officers shot and killed Sykap on the afternoon of April 5.
The following is the sequence of events as described in Alm’s criminal complaints:
At around 4:42 p.m., the three officers were in two separate patrol cars and were sent to Kawaikui Beach Park in East Honolulu because a 911 caller had reported a stolen white Honda at the park.
The car had been reported stolen two days earlier, on April 3, and was allegedly connected to several crimes, including armed robbery, a purse snatching and a theft, the complaint states.
When officers saw the car driving out of the park and turning onto Kalanianaole Highway, they attempted to initiate a traffic stop, but the Honda sped away from the area. Officers declared a vehicle pursuit at 4:52 p.m.
Thom and Fredeluces, who were in the same car, followed the Honda with their flashing blue lights and sirens and ordered the car to stop via their car’s PA system. But the car wouldn’t stop.
The car kept driving westbound on Kalanianaole and eventually met the H-1 freeway where the pursuit continued “at a high rate of speed.” By then, other officers had joined the pursuit as well.
The Honda exited the freeway at Kapiolani Boulevard and traveled west and then on side streets with officers following behind.
It then turned onto Kalakaua Avenue, driving mauka, with officers in tow.
At 5:02 p.m., the Honda stopped at the intersection of Kalakaua Avenue and Philips Street. Thom and Fredeluces stopped their car on the driver’s side of the Honda, and Ah Nee stopped at the front, blocking its forward path.
Officer Chanel Price stopped behind the Honda, and two other cars – apparently stopped at a red light – were on the passenger side of the Honda. When the Honda came to a stop, its front driver’s side made “minor” contact with the bumper of the car Thom and Fredeluces were driving.
“It is not clear whether either car deliberately hit the other car, as opposed to both cars coming into contact just by happenstance,” the complaint says.
That’s when Thom and Fredeluces got out of their car, and two passengers from the Honda got out of the rear passenger door and started running away.
When Thom got out of the patrol car’s passenger seat, an AR-15 rifle fell to the ground. As the officer picked it up and put it back in his patrol car, Ah Nee and Price were exiting their respective cars.
Fredeluces approached the driver’s side of the Honda and gave commands to the four occupants to “get out of the car.” He was pointing his gun into the car.
“The white Honda was not moving at this point,” the complaint says.
As Ah Nee ran to the passenger side of the Honda, Thom pulled out his service weapon, and Price was behind him.
“The white Honda had not moved more than a few inches since it originally stopped in the right hand lane of the intersection,” the complaint says.
Ah Nee attempted to open the front passenger door of the Honda, but it was locked. He pointed his firearm at the interior of the car and used his hand to hit the window to “get the occupants out.”
Then, Thom, “without provocation, started firing his firearm into the rear window of the white Honda,” the complaint says.”
He fired 10 rounds – eight of which hit Sykap. Thom’s bullets hit Sykap once in the back of the head, twice in the back of the neck, four times in the upper back and once in the left arm.
“The gunshot wound to the back of the head fractured Iremamber’s skull and entered his brain,” the complaint says.
One of the bullets lacerated his aorta, “a through and through fatal wound,” according to the complaint. He also suffered “extreme internal bleeding” because of wounds to his left lung.
Fredeluces fired a single round into the driver side door, above the handle. The bullet penetrated the door and entered the interior of the car but “apparently did not hit the driver, Iremamber Sykap,” the complaint says. He was fewer than 2 feet away from Sykap.
Price drew her gun but did not shoot.
When Thom first started shooting, the Honda was “apparently” in drive. It soon began moving forward and hit the side of Ah Nee’s empty patrol car before being “re-directed.” It then moved toward the empty sidewalk toward the canal, at which point Ah Nee “without provocation, fired four shots,” according to the complaint.
“Neither the white Honda, nor its occupants posed any threat to any person at that time,” the complaint states.
Two of the rounds fired by Ah Nee hit the front seat passenger, Mark Sykap, Iremamber’s brother. The bullets hit his right rear shoulder and left hand.
Iremamber Sykap was pronounced dead soon after arrival at The Queen’s Medical Center. His brother Mark was treated and released the same night.
After the shooting, officers wrote reports describing events that are “not seen” on the body-worn camera videos, according to Alm’s complaints.
Thom wrote that he shot to protect himself, fellow officers and members of the public and stated that the Honda “assaulted” and “rammed” his patrol car. That description, that the Honda rammed police cars, was repeated by former police chief Susan Ballard at a press conference soon after the shooting.
But that account isn’t supported by the body-worn camera footage, Alm’s office found.
“That is not seen on the BWC videos, and the patrol car that he was seated in sustained a few minor paint chips and some black scuffmarks,” the complaint says.
Thom also said the Honda reversed directly at him and that Fredeluces was in front of the Honda when it accelerated forward.
Neither of those details are reflected in the body camera footage, according to the complaint.
“There was no one in front of the white Honda, and there were no civilians on the sidewalk or anywhere in front of the white Honda,” the complaint says.
Fredeluces said in his report that when he heard gunshots and saw the driver’s window shatter, he thought the shots were coming from within the Honda and were fired by its occupants.
“However, before confirming his belief, he fired his 9 mm Glock firearm into the driver’s door,” the complaint states.
Ah Nee wrote in his report that he thought he saw the butt of a gun on the lap of the passenger in the front seat, according to the complaint.
The body camera video does not reflect that, the complaint says. The video shows what appears to be a “thin square object” in his lap that “does not resemble a firearm.” The passenger is seen holding a cell phone in his right hand and nothing in his left.
In his report, Ah Nee wrote that he heard gunfire and shot his gun at the vehicle, allegedly to protect himself and others, according to the complaint.
But the complaint says that no one was in danger at the time he fired his weapon and hit Mark Sykap.
An HPD ballistics report confirmed that seven bullets recovered from Iremamber Sykap’s body were fired from Thom’s Glock.
At this time, the bullets Fredeluces and Ah Nee fired have not been identified, the complaint says.
She also said that officials recovered no weapons from the teens’ vehicle. HPD officials later said they found a replica handgun but didn’t say how it may have played into officers’ decision to shoot the teenager.
Alm’s complaint says that one of the occupants of the Honda dropped a bag that was searched without a warrant and contained a starter pistol.
A starter pistol shoots blanks, like those used at track and field races. HPD’s firearms expert said it did not constitute a firearm, the complaint says.
Ballard also noted at that press conference that the Honda was linked to a car theft in Kaimuki, a purse snatching in Waikiki and, about 20 minutes before the incident with police, an armed robbery in Moiliili residence.
The criminal complaint addresses this.
“To date, none of the people who occupied the white Honda on April 5, 2021 has been identified as being involved in those alleged offenses,” the complaint states. “However, that does not mean they were not involved.”
The officers haven’t been arrested, and for the time being, will keep their jobs, according to HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu.
“The officers will have their police powers removed, and they will be assigned to desk duty,” she said.
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