The city is poised to foot the legal bill for two Honolulu police officers being sued in connection with the fatal shooting of Lindani Myeni nearly a year ago.

On Wednesday, the Honolulu Police Commission unanimously approved a taxpayer-funded legal defense for officers Garrick Orosco and Brent Sylvester, who are named in a wrongful death lawsuit that was filed the week after Myeni — an unarmed, 29-year-old South African national —  was shot dead after entering a stranger’s home.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Myeni’s widow, Lindsay Myeni, and it accuses the officers of negligence for allegedly failing to announce themselves before shooting Myeni four times.

Police Commissioner Doug Chin said Wednesday that he considers the case to be “very serious.”

Lindani Myeni HPD Honolulu police shooting screenshot from body camera video
The Honolulu Police Commission approved a city-funded legal defense for the officers accused in a wrongful death lawsuit in connection with the fatal shooting of Lindani Myeni. Screenshot/2021

Chin added that he was inclined to approve a publicly funded legal defense for the officers after considering a recommendation sent to the commission by the city’s attorneys. He also cited the commission’s rules, as well as state and county laws, that require them to provide officers with legal representation in cases resulting from actions the officers took while on duty.

Chin, along with the rest of the commission, agreed that the officers were acting within the scope of their job. However, he said a jury may disagree.

“If I were ever a juror in this civil trial, maybe I would feel totally differently,” Chin said. “Maybe then I would see all the evidence and I would see everything that’s being put out in terms of what actually happened, but right now all I have is a complaint that says a lot of very negative things about how the department and officers conducted themselves and then I see the department denying it.”

Police confronted Myeni shortly after he left the Nuuanu hom, where he spent approximately five minutes and was confronted by a woman in the home who called police, according to doorbell footage that captured the interaction.

The lawsuit alleges that the officers were negligent when they responded to a call about an alleged burglary and approached Myeni without lights or a siren on before shining a flashlight in his face on April 14, 2021.

The officers should have known that flashing their lights in Myeni’s face without explanation prevented him from recognizing them as police officers, the lawsuit said. That is why Myeni, who feared for his life, decided to resist arrest, according to the complaint.

Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm announced in July that the officers were justified in the shooting and cleared them of criminal charges. He added that his office found no evidence that race was a factor.

Alm said Myeni punched one of the officers who pointed a gun at him and told him to get on the ground. One of the officers used a Taser, but Myeni continued punching the officer before he was shot multiple times and killed, according to Alm.

In December, the state Law Enforcement Officer Independent Review Board, which is tasked with reviewing police shootings, made the same determination as Alm and recommended against prosecution for the officers.

Correction: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated that the decision of whether Orosco and Sylvester will get a city funded legal defense will now be up to City Council.

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