A central question in the murder case against a Honolulu police officer who shot and killed the 16-year-old driver of a stolen Honda is whether he opened fire to protect a fellow police officer.
In court proceedings on Wednesday, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Christopher Van Marter and defense attorneys questioned witnesses to paint opposing pictures of what happened the moments before Officer Geoffrey Thom pulled the trigger.
The officer shot 10 times through the back window of the Honda. Eight of his bullets hit Iremamber Sykap, killing him, prosecutors say.
Thom wrote in his report that he shot to protect himself, fellow officers and members of the public, according to the criminal complaint against him. In testimony on Wednesday, Officer Chanel Price, who was on the scene and drew her weapon at Sykap’s car but didn’t shoot, supported that narrative.
She said that Officer Christopher Fredeluces, one of the other defendants, was “in the front of the vehicle, on the driver’s side” of the Honda and that she believed he was in danger of being run over. She testified that the car began moving forward before Thom opened fire.
“If Officer Thom had not fired, would you have fired?” Thom’s attorney Richard Sing asked.
“Yes,” Price answered. “To stop the threat.”
“The threat was the car?” Sing asked.
“Yes,” Price answered.
The prosecution alleges that Thom shot “without provocation.”
“At no point on your body worn camera does it ever show Officer Fredeluces at the front of the white Honda, correct?” Van Marter asked Price.
“I don’t recall,” Price said. “I’d have to look at it again.”
Fredeluces did not activate his body camera that day, according to testimony from Lt. Brandon Nakasone, which is a violation of Honolulu Police Department policy.
During cross-examination, attorney Thomas Otake, who represents defendant Officer Zackary Ah Nee, suggested that Fredeluces still could’ve been hurt where he was, on the side of the car, and Price agreed with that.
Otake also objected to Van Marter walking witnesses through body camera screenshots, frame by frame, and emphasized that officers “didn’t have the luxury of slowing it down.”
During defense attorneys’ cross-examination of Price, she testified that officers were in the dangerous position of pursuing crime suspects in a vehicle that, at various points, was trying to evade police, ignored commands to pull over, ran red lights, drove toward oncoming traffic and was speeding – at perhaps 60 miles per hour, she said – through residential neighborhoods.
Van Marter admitted HPD’s use of force policy into evidence. The policy was updated just days before the shooting to direct officers not to shoot at vehicles, although there are exceptions that warrant deadly force. Otake suggested that this case would meet the criteria for an exception.
During a cross-examination of Nakasone, Otake took aim at Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm. The prosecutor brought charges against the officers before the criminal investigation division of HPD’s Professional Standards Office completed its investigation, Nakasone testified. Nakasone’s office still considers the investigation open, he said.
Ultimately, Judge William Domingo will decide whether there is probable cause for the murder case against Thom to proceed to trial, along with attempted murder charges against Ah Nee and Fredeluces.
Preliminary hearing proceedings will resume next month, on Aug. 17 and 18 at 1:30 p.m. at the Hawaii District Court on Alakea Street.
The following bodycam videos show content that some may find disturbing.
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