Officials investigating the police shooting of a 16-year-old and his brother in April found an “airsoft gun” – used to shoot plastic pellets – in the stolen Honda the teenager was driving, prosecution witnesses testified Tuesday.
Michael Lynch, a Honolulu Police Department evidence specialist, said he found “a handgun, BB caliber” on the passenger side floorboard of the car. He also testified he recovered two gun magazines – one loaded with 9 mm ammunition and one empty – in a backpack on the passenger side.
Prosecutors had not previously mentioned the BB gun or the gun magazines in court records or earlier proceedings.
The testimony was part of a preliminary hearing in which three Honolulu police officers are accused of shooting into an allegedly stolen vehicle on April 5, killing 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap and injuring his older brother in the passenger seat.
Prosecutors stated in charging documents that the officers lacked justification for pulling their triggers and therefore committed crimes. Defense attorneys are trying to poke holes in that narrative.
During court proceedings on Tuesday, defense lawyers cross-examined witnesses to emphasize that officers were responding to alleged criminal activity and that replica guns – one found inside the car and one outside – resemble actual firearms.
“I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference,” Honolulu Police Sgt. Adam Lipka said of the BB gun in response to questions from defense attorney Thomas Otake. “It looks like a real gun to me.”
Geoffrey Thom, 42, is facing the most serious charge: one count of murder in the second degree for the death of Iremamber Sykap, who was driving the car police were pursuing. Prosecutors say Thom shot 10 times through the rear window of the car “without provocation,” hitting Sykap eight times in the head, neck, back and arm.
Zackary Ah Nee, 26, is charged with one count of attempted murder in the second degree for allegedly shooting Iremamber’s older brother Mark Sykap. The prosecution alleges he shot at Sykap four times, hitting him in the shoulder and hand.
Ah Nee had written in his report that he thought he saw the butt of a gun on the lap of the passenger he shot, according to prosecutors’ complaint. But body camera video showed only what appeared to be a “thin square object” that did not resemble a firearm, prosecutors wrote.
Christopher Fredeluces, 40, was charged with one count of attempted murder in the second degree for shooting at Iremamber Sykap at “point-blank range,” although the prosecutor’s office said in its complaint that he missed his target.
Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm filed the charges despite a grand jury’s decision not to indict the officers.
A preliminary hearing is another mechanism to bring criminal charges, which defense attorneys failed last week to get dismissed. Alm’s decision to pursue this route is controversial, sparking major pushback from officers, their union and law enforcement supporters, who have shown up by the dozens for each court date. On Tuesday, demonstrators chanted “Free the three” as officers left for the day. Attendees waved signs proclaiming “Police Lives Matter” and “Back the Blue.”
Ultimately, Judge William Domingo will decide whether there is probable cause for the case to proceed to trial.
On Tuesday, the second day of preliminary hearing proceedings, attorneys questioned several witnesses who processed the scene of the shooting or were otherwise involved in the case.
Hideko Yoshihara, an HPD evidence specialist, testified that she recovered about 15 gun cartridge cases from the scene.
During cross-examination by Otake, Yoshihara said she also collected a backpack that contained a “gun-like object.” Prosecutors had previously mentioned that object in their charging documents and said it was found outside the car. Yoshihara said she was unsure exactly where it was found because an officer at the scene gave it to her.
Curtis Kubo, a criminalist in HPD’s scientific investigation section and a firearms expert, later identified it as a “blank firing revolver,” also known as a starter pistol, which is sometimes used at track meets or as a prop in movies.
“Is it a firearm?” Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chris Van Marter asked.
“No,” Kubo said.
Kubo later acknowledged in cross-examination that it does resemble one, in part because a colored cap that is often present on such devices was not present on this one. Photos of physical evidence were admitted into the court record but were not immediately made available to the public.
Otake questioned HPD Sgt. Lipka about what happened earlier in the day of the shooting. He said that officers, including the defendants, had received a briefing about crimes associated with the white Honda that Sykap would be found driving later that day.
Officers knew that the stolen vehicle was associated with a home invasion in which a firearm had been brandished, a possible armed robbery the week before and a purse snatching that same day, Lipka testified.
In response to questions from Van Marter, Lipka said when he arrived at the scene, he did not see any weapons in the car.
The last person to be questioned on Tuesday was Chanel Price, a Honolulu police officer who drew her weapon at Sykap’s car but did not fire.
Asked why, Price said that she didn’t have a clear line of fire and that Thom was between her and the car. When Van Marter asked why she didn’t fire once Thom was out of the way, she said: “I didn’t have to.”
“Everything happened in a matter of maybe a second,” she said.
After the shooting, Price said she wrote her report in front of Thom, Ah Nee, Fredeluces, police union members and department leadership in an HPD squad room.
“Why is it that police officers involved in a shooting are preparing their written report in the same room with one another?” Van Marter asked.
Despite a defense attorney objection to the question, Judge Domingo allowed Price to answer. She said she didn’t know.
Preliminary hearing proceedings will continue on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.
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