In June, while investigating an alleged home break-in, the Hawaii County Police Department said officers shot a man in the residence after he slashed an officer’s arm with a knife.
The man, 31-year-old Daniel Buckingham, died from his injuries.
Now his parents, Mary and Marty Buckingham, are suing the county for wrongful death because they say the officers failed to announce their presence and tried to catch their son “by surprise.”
“They were quietly approaching that room and whispering to each other. No announcement of police,” Jim Bickerton, an attorney for the Michigan-based couple, said during a virtual press conference on Wednesday.
Hawaii County police said in a press release in June that officers did announce their presence several times, but that cannot be heard on body camera footage the department released.
On June 18, Buckingham was in a vacant home on Kilauea Avenue in Hilo, according to the lawsuit. His parents said they didn’t know what he was doing there. Neighbors said the place was vacant, according to police.
Officers entered the home and approached the closed door of a room in which Buckingham had secluded himself, according to the lawsuit.
“At that time, Daniel was in a state of mind, whether produced by anxiety, external threats, medical conditions or otherwise, where he believed that he was in physical danger,” the lawsuit states.
Marty Buckingham, a neurosurgeon, said on Wednesday that he believes his son had an undiagnosed mental illness and suffered from social anxiety. Daniel Buckingham also struggled with substance abuse and lived a transient lifestyle, according to his mother. She described her son as nonviolent.
Officers did not say “police” or otherwise announce their identities or purpose, nor did they order Buckingham out of the room, the lawsuit states. Instead, they forced the door open and, “in the process the extended arm of one of them sustained a cut on his forearm.”
In a matter of seconds, Buckingham was shot about 13 times, according to the lawsuit.
Police said in a press release that Buckingham was armed with two knives, one small and one large, and that when police breached the door, he swung the larger one at an officer, striking him in the forearm.
However, no video footage was recovered from the camera of that injured officer and the department said in June it is investigating why. The video police released doesn’t include any clear footage of the knife or the shooting. Without video, Bickerton said he doesn’t know whether or not Buckingham lunged at them with a knife.
The lawsuit alleges that the officers’ actions – both entering the room with loaded firearms and shooting Buckingham – were unjustified.
“He could almost certainly hear someone outside but they weren’t saying who they were,” Bickerton said. “He doesn’t know who is about to burst through that door. That’s just bad police work.”
Earlier that week, Buckingham had been arrested and charged for burglary and theft, court records show.
Cyrus Johnasen, communications director for Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth, declined to comment on the case because of the litigation.
Bickerton said the problem of police failing to identify themselves is larger than this one case. He is also representing the widow of Lindani Myeni, a South African man killed by Honolulu officers who did not announce their presence until after they shot him dead. However, police and Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm have said that Myeni should have known they were law enforcement.
Marty Buckingham said that in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he and his wife live, social workers get dispatched to scenes involving people with potential mental illness to help deescalate situations. He suggested Hawaii could benefit from such a program.
“If nothing else, by shining a light on this, maybe methods can be improved nationwide,” he said.
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.
Not a subscription
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.