Honolulu Prosecutor: Officers Were Justified in Shooting Lindani Myeni in Self-Defense, No Charges
The use of deadly force by Honolulu police officers in the shooting death of Lindani Myeni was justified, and as a result no charges will be filed, Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm said Wednesday.
Alm spent more than an hour detailing why a two-month investigation by his office resulted in a decision not to press charges against three Honolulu Police Department officers for the shooting death of 29-year-old Myeni on April 14.
"Now, this case is a tragedy all the way around. It’s a tragedy for the Myeni family, they lost their loved one, but it’s also a tragedy for the police. When police are forced in this case take somebody’s life, that’s going to stay with them. And that should be respected as well," he said.
On the night of the shooting, three Honolulu officers responded to a 911 call at a Nuʻuanu home when they encountered Myeni. Alm’s investigation found officers gave a verbal warning before Myeni attacked one officer, and officers also tried unsuccessfully to use a Taser on Myeni.
"Officers who responded to this ended up trying to use multiple non-lethal, non-deadly force techniques to control Mr. Myeni before they used their service firearms. Officer 1 was justified in shooting Mr. Myeni in self-defense. Officer 2 was justified in shooting Mr. Myeni in defense of another," Alm said.
Alm also uncovered a separate incident between officers and Myeni that happened earlier that night. About 30 minutes before the shooting, Myeni interjected himself in a situation at Kewalo Basin where police were investigating a vehicle break-in and had to be told to go away by both the victim and officers, Alm said.
Myeni then asked one of the officers for money to buy food and tried to get into the back of a police car, Alm said.
"I have three takeaways from the Kewalo Basin incident. First, Mr. Myeni knew full well what Honolulu officers looked like and what their uniforms look like. Second, he was not intimidated in any way about going up and interrupting a police investigation. And I'm not a mental health professional, but from this layperson’s perspective several of his statements or actions were strange, even bizarre," Alm said.
Alm said that from Kewalo Basin, Myeni drove a short distance to the Nu‘uanu home where tourists who didn't know him were staying. He followed them into the house, told the woman “I have videos of you,” claimed a cat there was his and made comments about hunting. The frightened woman called 911.
Alm also played officer body camera videos that showed Myeni punching responding officers, leaving one with facial fractures and a concussion. Myeni continued punching an officer even after he was shot once in the chest, Alm said.
Alm released a 65-page report of the investigation including the autopsy and medical examiner’s report. He said the police department is also expected to release all body camera footage of the incident along with police reports and the 911 calls.
Interim Police Chief Rade Vanic said, "When we take our oath, we know that our work will put us in serious, dangerous and potentially deadly situations. We go to great lengths to protect our community, but the tragic reality is that, in rare cases, incidents may end in the loss of a life. We are thankful that two of our officers were able to return to work, and we continue to support our third officer as he recovers from his injuries. We also thank the community for its ongoing support of HPD."
A lawsuit by Myeni's widow said police were motivated by racial discrimination and that he likely mistook the house for a nearby Hare Krishna temple that is open to the public. Myeni was a South Africa national who had recently moved to Honolulu.
Alm said his investigation found no evidence for those claims. Alm said his office's investigation refutes those who said the shooting shows that despite Hawai‘i's multicultural diversity, police are racist because Myeni was Black.
“In some communities, you do have the police are of one race, generally, and the people they are policing are of another race. And we don't have that in Hawai‘i ... police officers live among us,” Alm said.
Attorney Bridget Morgan-Bickerton, who represents Myeni's wife, said Alm's investigation was flawed in various ways, including not interviewing any of the officers. Alm said his office relied on police statements.
“I think the prosecutor started with a desire not to charge the officers with anything and created a narrative from there," Morgan-Bickerton said.