The Hawaii Law Enforcement Officer Independent Review Board has ruled that two Honolulu Police Department shootings over two years ago were justified.

The shooting review board issued recommendations not to prosecute the officers involved in the deaths of Siatuu Tauai, 51, and Kyle Thomas, 26, who were both killed by police less than a month apart in early 2019.

Members of the Hawaii Law Enforcement Officer Independent Review Board found that two fatal shootings by the Honolulu Police Department were justified. Screenshot/2021

“The Board finds that the investigation was fairly conducted, and the use of deadly force by the law enforcement officer in this case was justified” under Hawaii law, according to both letters sent to Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steven Alm on October 5. “Accordingly, the Board recommends that prosecution in this matter be declined.”

The Hawaii Law Enforcement Officer Independent Review Board found that Honolulu police did not violate the law in two fatal shootings. The board, which is made up of former prosecutors, police officers and judges, can only review evidence and reports submitted by law enforcement agencies after an internal criminal investigation is completed.

The board, which meets monthly, then recommends to county prosecutors whether officers be charged in the incident or finds that additional investigation is necessary to come to a conclusion.

The deliberations regarding the shooting deaths of Tauai and Thomas were done in closed-door sessions and the findings were published in the weeks following its latest meeting on Oct. 5.

The board has yet to recommend prosecution of an officer.

Tauai was killed on Jan. 29, 2019 following a police pursuit. According to then-Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard, the incident began after three officers saw Tauai driving in and out of traffic near King and Kalihi streets in the early morning.

Officers chased the vehicle and caught up to it on Hala Drive. One of the officers reportedly pepper-sprayed Tauai, but it was too windy for the spray to be effective.

“The suspect then revved the engine and sped towards an officer who was standing at his vehicle’s open driver door,” Ballard said at the time. “The officer had no time to react because the door blocked his exit (so) that his only reaction left would be to try and stop the threat.”

Tauai was shot on the left side and died of his injuries.

Thomas died the following month on Feb. 20, 2019.

At the time, Ballard said that officers shot the 26-year-old after he drove his vehicle at them during a shoplifting investigation.

However, in July 2020, Thomas’ family sued the city for use of excessive force.

According to the lawsuit, Thomas was shopping at Walmart in Mililani with his girlfriend before the incident. On his way out, as he was stopped at a light, he was surrounded by unmarked police vehicles that boxed him in, the complaint said.

Plainclothes officers then approached both sides of the vehicle. The complaint alleged that the officers were off-duty and didn’t announce they were police officers. Ballard said that the officers did identify themselves as police.

According to the lawsuit, Thomas “posed no immediate threat of death or serious physical injury” to the officers, the car was at a “complete stop,” and the occupants of the car were complying with the officers’ demands.

The complaint stated that an officer smashed the driver-side window and shot Thomas in his right leg. A friend applied pressure to Thomas’ leg, which was on the gas pedal, causing the car to move forward and collide with a tree on the opposite side of the street. As the vehicle rolled, officers shot at it, according to the complaint.

Thomas was pronounced dead at the scene. His girlfriend and the friend were taken to the hospital with life-threatening injuries, the lawsuit said.

According to minutes of a court hearing, both parties in the lawsuit met in September for an early settlement conference, but the negotiations were found to be premature and no agreement was reached.

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