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The Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has found that two officers who shot Lindani Myeni outside of a Nuuanu home in April were justified in using deadly force to stop Myeni from beating one of the officers.
“It may have saved (the officer’s) life,” Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm told reporters at a media briefing on Wednesday in which he spent more than an hour detailing his office’s findings in the case.
Alm said the officers would not face charges in this case. His decision in the Myeni shooting comes as three other Honolulu police officers face murder and attempted murder charges in the shooting of 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap, a case Alm is pushing even after a grand jury declined to indict them.
It’s still not clear what exactly Myeni was doing on Coelho Way the night he was shot. His wife and supporters have suggested he was trying to go into a nearby temple and that he was simply confused about which building he was in.
Alm’s recounting of the events of the evening of April 14 began with an earlier encounter Myeni had with police at Kewalo Basin and then about 30 minutes later he showed up at the house on Coelho Way where the couple called police when he wouldn’t leave.
When officers arrived, Myeni attacked them, Alm said. The officers tried in several different ways to stop the attack using non-lethal means but ultimately two different officers fired their weapons when Myeni continued to beat one officer who was on the ground.
“We did not see any evidence that race played any part in this entire incident,” Alm said.
Alm’s review relied mainly on police reports, body camera footage, statements from officers and data collected from Myeni’s phone, as well as the homeowner’s Ring video recorded at the house. Investigators with the prosecutor’s office did not interview the officers in the case, nor did they interview Myeni’s wife or the couple who called 911 the night of the shooting.
Alm released the 65-page prosecutor’s report along with a power point of his presentation, photos and videos including body-worn camera footage his office relied to make its determination.
James Bickerton, an attorney representing Myeni’s wife in a lawsuit against the City and County of Honolulu and the officers, said that Alm failed to address an important question: why would police order an unarmed man onto the ground at gunpoint?
In a statement, Bickerton said that makes Alm’s analysis flawed.
“If the order from unidentified persons to get on the ground at gunpoint was unlawful, then Mr. Myeni was lawfully defending himself,” the statement said. “Mr. Alm did not address whether it was lawful for Mr. Myeni to defend himself from the unknown assailant with a gun. Without that analysis, the rest of his analysis can have no weight.”
On Wednesday, Bickerton also filed a motion with the First Circuit Court that identifies officers Garrick Orosco and Brent Sylvester as the two officers who fired their weapons. He is asking the court to add the officers names to the lawsuit.
Alm said he wasn’t naming the officers because he found their actions justified and is not planning to file charges against them.
Like a lawyer making closing arguments in court, Alm spent about an hour weaving a narrative that detailed what prosecutor investigators determined happened on the night of April 14.
Here’s how Alm laid it out:
Myeni left home about 7:15 p.m. to go on a drive.
About a half hour later, Myeni showed up at Kewalo Basin, where HPD officers were investigating a case of unauthorized entry into a motor vehicle.
Myeni approached the crime victim and asked if he’d lost anything. The victim, who is not named in Alm’s report, asked Myeni to get away from him and told officers he didn’t know him.
A short time later, Myeni approached a responding officer as he sat in his car and asked him for money because he was hungry. Myeni tried to get into the back seat of the police car before an officer told him to back away.
Myeni had another exchange with officers, stating that he needed help contacting someone, but then told officers that he had his own phone.
“I’m not a mental health professional but, from this layperson’s perspective, several of (Myeni’s) statements and actions were strange, even bizarre,” Alm said.
Myeni left Kewalo Basin and drove to Nuuanu.
Myeni followed a pair of Chinese tourists, Da Ju “Dexter” and Shiying “Sabine” Wang, to where they were staying at 91 Coelho Way, tailgating them as they drove and frightening them.
They pulled into their driveway and Myeni parked his car directly behind’s Jeep. He followed them into the house.
“Her reaction to this sounds totally reasonable to me.” — Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm
Once inside, Myeni told the couple that he had videos of them, though further review of images on his cellphone found that was not the case, according to the prosecutor’s report.
Sabine Wang asked Myeni if he was trying to blackmail her.
Myeni sat in the foyer of the home and said he lived there. The homeowner denied knowing Myeni.
He also told the Wangs that he was “on a hunt. On a safari.”
Wang “interpreted this as a threat and said that she and her husband were the hunted prey and he was the hunter,” Alm said.
The Wangs asked Myeni to leave several times, but Myeni disregarded their requests and stayed in the house at least 5 minutes.
Wang told Myeni she was calling 911. But Myeni told them he was not afraid of the police.
A hysterical Sabine Wang called police.
“Her reaction to this sounds totally reasonable to me,” Alm told reporters, adding that most people would have reacted the same way to a stranger coming into the house uninvited and acting as strangely as Myeni was acting.
Three officers arrived at the house on Coelho Way, called to investigate a burglary. Two officers ultimately fired their weapons while the third deployed his Taser.
Myeni attacked the officers within moments of their arrival, striking Orosco – identified as Officer 1 in Alm’s presentation. Officer 3, who has not been identified either by Alm or Bickerton, deployed his Taser but one probe struck a nearby car so it was ineffective. Myeni hit Officer 3 and then Sylvester — Officer 2 — grabbed him and tried to bring him to the ground but was unsuccessful.
Myeni charged at Orosco again, and the officer shot Myeni in his chest. But the bullet didn’t stop him and Myeni tackled Orosco and began punching him repeatedly on the ground.
Sylvester drew his weapon and ordered Myeni to stop. When Myeni kept punching Orosco in the face, Sylvester fired three times, striking Myeni twice in the torso and once in the leg.
Five seconds elapsed between Orosco’s first shot and the three shots fired by Sylvester.
Alm said both officers were justified because Orosco feared for his life and Sylvester was afraid Orosco would be killed, or that Myeni would gain control of Orsoco’s service weapon.
Two officers have returned to work, but the third who was seriously injured has not, Alm said.
The Medical Examiner found marijuana in Myeni’s blood, but Alm said the autopsy report didn’t indicate that drugs were a factor in Myeni’s behavior.
Gunshot residue was found on Myeni’s hands.
Throughout his presentation, Alm emphasized that the three officers tried several things to subdue Myeni without lethal force, including use of the Taser and trying to tackle him, before opening fire.
But Alm’s report Wednesday was based mainly on statements made by officers in department reports and on other evidence obtained by HPD. The prosecutor’s investigators talked to some neighbors but did not independently interview the three officers, the Wangs or Myeni’s widow, Lindsay Myeni. They did not interview the officers at Kewalo Basin.
In recent weeks, Alm has been outspoken about his intention to provide an independent investigation into police shootings in Honolulu and on Wednesday defended his reliance on material largely provided by HPD as being a thorough review.
He said he didn’t think it was necessary to re-interview the three officers because the bodycam video and the Ring home video plainly showed what happened and matched the officers’ own statements.
“We have that to look at. If we had felt the need to do follow-up interviews with the officers, we would have done it. I think we were satisfied with what we saw,” he said.
Bickerton in his lawsuit on behalf of Lindsay Myeni and critics of the police action that night have pointed to the same videos and interviews to make the case that Myeni was unarmed, was behaving peacefully and left the house when asked.
They point out that the police did not clearly identify themselves and called out “Police” only after the shots were fired. They say the police shined powerful lights in Myeni’s eyes and have speculated he couldn’t see or didn’t know the men were uniformed police officers, attacking them because he feared for his own safety.
Alm addressed those concerns, noting that uniformed officers don’t need to announce they are law enforcement when they arrive at a scene or pull a vehicle over for a traffic stop, for instance. He said he believed Myeni knew they were police officers, just as he did when he approached the police at Kewalo Basin earlier in the evening.
“It was obvious,” Alm said.
He also dismissed the notion that Myeni was blinded in the dark by the officers’ flashlights, and said there was adequate light from the streetlights near the house.
The shooting has drawn international attention especially in Myeni’s home of South Africa where there have been protests over the way Honolulu police handled the incident. Lindsey Myeni has contended that her husband was shot because he was Black.
But Alm said his review turned up no indication of racism.
“I understand what’s happening across the country and people are paying more attention to these. And in some communities you do have, police are of one race, generally and the people they are policing are of another race. And we don’t have that in Hawaii,” Alm said.
“When we looked at this entire case, we did not see any evidence that race played any part in this entire incident,” Alm said.
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