Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm announced Wednesday that two officers who shot and killed a machete-wielding man in Kalihi-Palama last year were justified in their use of force and will not be prosecuted.

Alm held a press conference Wednesday morning to discuss his office’s investigation into the pair of officers who shot 41-year-old Elia Laeli on Aug. 11, 2021, near an illegal gambling room on North School Street.

“Our conclusion is the use of deadly force, which resulted in the death of Mr. Laeli, was justified,” Alm said. “And as a result, no charges will be filed against the two Honolulu police officers who shot Mr. Laeli.”

Honolulu Prosecutor Steven Alm speaks to media not having a third trial involving Christopher Deede.
Honolulu Prosecutor Steven Alm announced that his office will not be filing charges against the officers who fatally shot Elia Laeli last year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Officers and Emergency Medical Services workers initially responded to the scene after Laeli confronted a couple with a 24-inch machete and severed a male witness’s finger at approximately 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 11, Alm said.

When the first officer arrived, the man was fading in and out of consciousness and had a cloth around his hand. A witness at the scene then pointed out Laeli to the officer and identified him as the assailant, according to Alm.

The officer instructed Laeli, who was still holding the machete, to “come over here” and began to approach him, observing what appeared to be blood on the blade, Alm said.

A second officer joined the first officer. They repeatedly told Laeli to drop the knife, but he ignored the commands and started rummaging through the driver’s side of a nearby Volkswagen.

Laeli then slammed the door of the car and charged the officers with the machete raised above his head, prompting the officers to open fire, Alm said.

Laeli suffered nine gunshot wounds, including one to the face and two to the chest. He was rushed to Queen’s Medical Center, but was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival.

“The use of deadly force which resulted in Mr. Laeli’s death was justified,” Alm said. “Officer One was justified in shooting Mr. Laeli in self-defense. Officer Two was justified in shooting Mr. Laeli in defense of others — the other person being Officer One.”

“As a result, no charges will be filed against either of the two police officers involved in this incident,” Alm said.

Alm went on to commend the officers for their response.

“They both acted professionally at all times, did their job and protected the public,” Alm said. “They did their job without getting angry or frustrated that Mr. Laeli was not following their commands. The officers followed their training. They followed HPD’s use of force policy.”

“He gave them no choice but to shoot,” Alm added.

Wednesday’s press conference was the second independent investigation into a police shooting completed by the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office this year. In late January, Alm announced that he would not be filing charges against the officers who shot 48-year-old Ricky Kaleopaa earlier in the month.

Alm said his office is currently working on two more probes into police shootings. He explained that HPD has been generally cooperative with the investigations.

“Some of the times we have to remind, you know, to follow up on it,” Alm said. “Each case is different. I think HPD realizes that it’s in the best interest for everybody, and in the interest of objectivity, to have somebody else do these independent investigations and that’s us.”

Following the press conference, HPD Interim Chief Rade Vanic issued a press release saying that the incident that led to Laeli’s death was “just one example of how a routine call for service can turn life-threatening in seconds. ”

“The officers’ brave actions speak for themselves, and we are grateful that they were not seriously hurt,” Vanic said.

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