A veteran Honolulu police officer was placed on administrative leave Tuesday after he shot and killed a 51-year-old Ewa Beach man who apparently sped his vehicle toward the officer at a traffic stop in Kalihi.
Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard said the officer feared for his life and had no time to get out of the way of the black truck, leaving no other option but to stop the threat.
The suspect was hit with about a dozen bullets.
It is the first officer-involved shooting of the year on Oahu following last year’s 11 incidents in which six of the victims died, the highest number of fatal police shootings on Oahu since 2013.
Ballard, speaking at a news conference, said that shortly before 1:30 a.m. Tuesday three officers with the department’s Night Enforcement Unit saw the black truck weaving in and out of traffic near the intersection of King and Kalihi streets.
The three officers in three separate marked squad cars attempted to pull over the truck in front of the Kamehameha Homes apartments across from Farrington High School, she said.
As the officers got out of their cars, the driver of the truck drove over an embankment to escape, she said, but the officers soon caught up with the vehicle on Hala Drive near Kapalama Avenue.
The officers ordered the driver to turn off his ignition, but the driver refused, prompting one of the officers to deploy pepper spray, but it was ineffective, Ballard said.
“The suspect then revved the engine and sped toward an officer who was standing in his vehicle’s open driver’s door,” she said.
It was a relatively close distance to the officer who discharged his firearm, she said, and the vehicle struck the squad car and crashed into a light pole.
“There are actually skid marks on the ground from where he took off,” Ballard said. “The officer had no time to react. The door would block his exit; the only reaction left is to try to stop the threat.”
The suspect was hit on the left side of his body, and even though officers administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the suspect died at the scene around 2:30 a.m.
Ballard said the 51-year-old had no outstanding warrants, but did have 12 convictions on his record, including a felony for terroristic threatening.
A substance that appeared to be cocaine was found in his car, she said, adding that investigators are awaiting results from toxicology tests to determine whether alcohol or drugs were involved.
The officer who discharged his firearm was not injured. The eight-year veteran was placed on administrative leave as is standard department procedure, the chief said. The two other officers have 13 and five years’ experience. Ballard said all of the officers will be offered counseling.
On the scene, police shut down a section of the road to investigate and reopened the roadway shortly before 7:15 a.m.
Resident Nita Huynh, who lives on Kapalama Avenue, said she was in her home drinking some water to alleviate a headache when she heard a police officer outside order someone to pull over. She then heard an individual yell back at the officer.
At some point, Huynh, 13, said she heard approximately five to seven shots fired.
When she peered out of a window, she observed the SUV and police vehicles on the street fronting her home.
“I saw a truck crashed into a light pole and a bunch of police cars around it,” she said Tuesday morning.
Star-Advertiser reporter Rosemarie Bernardo contributed to this report.