A Kalihi clothing business was the scene of an exchange of gunfire yesterday when a suspected car thief dashed into Surf Line Hawaii and allegedly fired at police before an officer critically wounded him.
The man was shot about four feet from where a receptionist sat at her desk, said Mark Tsuda, chief executive officer of Surf Line Hawaii.
"Nobody was hysterical," Tsuda said of his 45 employees. "Everyone was amazingly calm. We’re just happy everyone was safe."
Police Chief Louis Kealoha said the 50-year-old suspect fired first at officers with what police described as an "improvised" firearm. An officer returned fire, hitting the suspect once, Kealoha said.
No one else was hurt in the 11:36 a.m. shooting.
The suspect, 50, has 32 criminal convictions, including 16 felony offenses such as kidnapping, robbery and car theft, Kealoha said.
The officer, a 15-year veteran of the police force and a member of the Kalihi crime reduction unit, will be placed on administrative leave, standard policy after an officer fires a weapon, Kealoha said.
The chain of events began with a report of a man breaking into a car at a parking lot on Kalani Street just before 10:50 a.m., Kealoha said.
"Something that starts up innocent can end up something like this, so you just never know," Kealoha said. "We are thankful that no one else in this incident was injured."
A security guard patrolling a parking lot across the street from the Libby, McNeill & Libby building at 1451 Kalani St. said he confronted a man in a car.
Tony Roberts, a Securitas guard, said he saw a man sitting in a car with a handgun in his lap, apparently trying to steal a Honda sedan.
Roberts said the man got out of the car and aimed the gun at him from about six feet away. Roberts said he ran through the rear doors of the Dillingham Plaza shopping center at the back of the parking lot and called police.
He said the man had stolen a stereo out of the car.
The man, meanwhile, ran up the stairs of the two-story Libby McNeill building, where Surf Line and its subsidiary, Jams World, do business.
Responding police officers entered the building and were speaking with a female employee when the man emerged and fired at one of the officers, Kealoha said.
An officer returned fire and hit the man once.
Maj. Richard Robinson of HPD’s Criminal Investigation Division said the man and the officer each fired at least one shot. He described an "improvised" firearm as a gun that is not made by a manufacturer. It is considered a firearm under state law.
Maj. William Chur, commander of the Kalihi district, said he saw the man after the shooting. He said he was conscious but "bleeding profusely from the head."
Tsuda of Surf Line said that except for the receptionist, most of the employees were unaware of what was going on.
"We heard a couple of loud bangs, so we went outside the office, looked down the corridor and saw a gentleman slumped over a chair in the reception area and quite a bit of blood," Tsuda said.
Tsuda said he immediately checked on the offices on his side of the second floor and herded everyone out alternate exits that lead to Kalani Street.
"By the time the employees on the other side figured what was going on, police told them to stay inside and lock the doors," Tsuda said.
"We did not see it," said Cecilia Mercado, a quality control worker who was working in the back of the second-floor offices. "I just feel nervous."
Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro went to the scene. The prosecutor’s office does not comment on ongoing investigations, but spokeswoman Lynne Waters said the department has reinstated a policy of conducting its own investigation when a police officer has fired his gun. It was Kaneshiro’s policy during his previous tenure as Honolulu prosecutor from 1989 to 1996, she said.