Honolulu Prosecutor Will Not Appeal Ruling Sparing Police
Honolulu's prosecutor on Monday said his office will not appeal a judge's decision to reject murder and attempted murder charges filed against three police officers in the fatal shooting of a teenager.
Steve Alm defended his office's decision to pursue charges against the officers, saying its investigation found the officers' use of deadly force wasn't justified. He said the officers hadn't followed the Honolulu Police Department's use of force policy and that they didn't use self-defense in the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap.
District Court Judge William Domingo ruled against the charges on Wednesday after listening to several days of preliminary hearing testimony to determine whether the officers should be tried. He also reviewed footage from video cameras worn by several police officers.
"I knew that prosecuting three police officers would not be a popular decision by some in the community but that is what accountability looks like," Alm said. "At the same time, I get stopped regularly on the street by people telling me thank you for holding everyone accountable and sticking to my guns and doing it. And while I was surprised and disappointed by Judge Domingo’s ruling, I certainly accept it, that is the way our system works."
“We do an objective investigation of the facts. And if laws are broken, that person or persons is held accountable. No one is above the law and nobody should be given a pass on being held accountable,” he said at a news conference.
Officer Geoffrey Thom had been charged with second-degree murder, while Zackary Ah Nee and Christopher Fredeluces were charged with attempted murder.
The charges came after prosecutors took their case to a grand jury but failed to win an indictment there in June.
Domingo found the officers were in danger when they approached the car Sykap was driving after he lead police on a high-speed chase up to 80 mph (130 kph) on highways and city streets.
Domingo said Sykap’s car started to move and could have hit the officers. The judge said the officers were standing in a zone of danger near Sykap’s car, a white Honda that had been reported stolen a few days prior. The police had issued an “all points bulletin” warning officers about the car, which had been involved in a purse snatching, burglary and armed robbery in the days after it was stolen.
Alm, echoing arguments made by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Christopher Van Marter, said it didn’t matter whether Sykap had committed any crimes in the past or whether he might do so in the future.
“Rather, the question is whether Mr. Sykap’s actions at the time posed any immediate threat. At issue, then, is whether the officer’s use of deadly force at the time they fired was justified based on self defense or defense of others,” Alm said.
Alm said his office would continue to conduct independent reviews of shootings by Honolulu police officers. Alm said the Sykap case demonstrated the importance of such independent investigations.
He related how preliminary hearing testimony revealed that after the shooting, the officers gathered in the same room to review body-worn camera footage and write their reports about the incident.
“That procedure — getting together — would never be allowed in other cases involving suspects in any other crime,” Alm said.
He said this process, along with the inconsistencies between these officer accounts and the body camera footage, contributed to his office filing charges.
The Sykap family is moving forward with a civil lawsuit against the City and County of Honolulu.