A judge denied two motions in the criminal case against three Honolulu Police Department officers in the April shooting death of 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap, which set off a charged debate about violent police encounters and led to the rare indictments.

Judge William Domingo denied the officers’ motion to dismiss the case and another request to disqualify Deputy Prosecutor Christopher Van Marter. Domingo heard arguments from Van Marter and three defense attorneys for about 90 minutes before coming to a decision.

Domingo sided with prosecutors, agreeing that the case should proceed, setting the stage for a preliminary hearing that began immediately afterwards. As the two sides argued their cases in court, supporters and critics of the police faced off outside in emotional and sometimes physical confrontations.

After the judge’s decisions, Sykap supporters rang bells and hugged.

Defense attorney Thomas Otake looks over at the three defendants Honolulu Police Department officers in Judge William Domingo’s court. Prosecutors will try to convince a judge that probable cause exists to formally bring charges against Geoffrey Thom, who is accused of second degree murder for shooting Sykap eight times in the back, as well as Zachary Ah Nee and Christopher Fredeluces, who are accused of second degree attempted murder for shooting at Sykap and his brother.
Defense attorney Thomas Otake argued that his three clients, HPD officers, should not have been charged by Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm after a grand jury in the Sykap case declined to indict them. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

The court heard from three witnesses Tuesday afternoon. The preliminary hearing was continued to July 27.

Van Marter and the three defense attorneys in the case declined comment after court adjourned for the day.

Sykap’s family brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and the officers in May. A status conference in that case is scheduled in August.

Geoffrey Thom, who has five years on the force, faces second degree murder charges for allegedly shooting Sykap eight times in the back.

Zackary Ah Nee, who’s been with HPD for three years, is charged with second degree attempted murder, accused of shooting Sykap’s brother, Mark Sykap.

Christopher Fredeluces, a 10-year veteran of the department, is also accused of second degree attempted murder for shooting at Iremamber Sykap at close range.

If tried and found guilty, all three officers face sentences of life in prison with the possibility of parole.

The April 5 shooting occurred after officers chased a white Honda driven by Sykap from Aina Haina to Kalakaua Avenue. The vehicle was linked to a car theft, purse snatching and armed robbery.

Honolulu Prosecutor Steve Alm brought charges against the officers a week after a grand jury declined to indict them. The officers’ attorneys have argued that the case should not proceed without a grand jury indictment.

However, prosecutors have said that the state constitution allows them to move forward. Legal experts have noted that while it’s not improper to pursue felony charges in this manner, it is out of the ordinary. Domingo sided with prosecutors.

Van Marter called three witnesses Tuesday, including a surgeon from The Queen’s Medical Center who attended to Sykap and his brother when they arrived at the hospital, as well as a police officer who escorted the ambulance.

Masahiko Kobayashi, the city’s chief medical examiner, also testified Tuesday. Toxicology reports showed Sykap had meth in his system, according to Kobayashi.

HPD supporters and protestors face each other outside the court in Honolulu Tuesday, July 20, 2021, where a preliminary hearing took place for the three officers in connection with the April 5 fatal shooting of a 16-year-old who was at the wheel of a stolen car that had allegedly been involved in a violent crime spree(Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)
HPD supporters and critics faced off outside the courtroom. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2021

Kobayashi wasn’t able to determine when Sykap may have taken meth.

During cross examination, Thomas Otake, one of the defense attorneys, asked Kobayashi if meth “is capable of causing aggressive behavior and irrational reactions.” Kobayashi answered that it was.

The officers are entitled to taxpayer-funded defense attorneys, who would need to be approved by the Honolulu City Council.

About 300 people gathered outside the courthouse in support of the accused officers, including police union members, firefighters and longshoremen. A parade of more than 10 cars honked and flashed their lights in support of the accused. About 50 demonstrated against the police, including members of the Sykap family.

Wayne Kaiwi, creator of Back the Blue Hawaii, said Alm should have listened to the grand jury. “We’re going to recall him because he does not belong in office,” he said.

Malcolm Lutu, president of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, likewise condemned Alm’s decision.

“It’s already setting precedent,” he said. “We’ve never had to deal with anything like this.”

A member of the Sykap family held up a sign saying, “Your life matters more than your mistakes.” Other Sykap supporters chanted, “No justice, no peace, prosecute the police” and “HPD, what do you say? How many kids have you killed today?”

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