Two body-worn camera videos released Friday by the Honolulu Police Department show a violent struggle between 29-year-old Lindani Myeni and Honolulu police officers, who shot and killed Myeni outside a Nuuanu home Wednesday night during an alleged burglary.
One video is 32 seconds long; the other is 55 seconds. A third officer’s body camera was not activated.
The dark footage, illuminated mostly by police flashlights and lights from a house, shows officers arriving at the scene of a reported burglary to a woman, who HPD said likely called 911, yelling about a man who had allegedly just been inside.
Myeni, the suspect, can first be seen in the videos standing in a parking area on the property. Initially, he was not aggressive toward police, but he did not respond to their commands.
A police officer ordered Myeni to “get on the ground” multiple times, but he did not comply. Myeni, who was apparently unarmed, can then be seen walking toward the officer and attacking him; a second officer arrived and deployed his Taser.
Police said the Taser did not stop Myeni, who then attacked the officer who used it. An officer then fired the first shot of the encounter. It’s not clear whether it hit anyone, but the encounter continued.
The footage then shows Myeni attacking an officer who was on the ground before a third officer fired his gun three times at him.
Myeni was later taken to a hospital and pronounced dead from his gunshot wounds. He was a married father of two and had previously lived in South Africa.
Three officers were injured, including one who suffered facial fractures and remained hospitalized Friday.
At a news conference at HPD headquarters to release the video, Acting Deputy Chief Allan Nagata said the officers had “fought for their lives.”
“They were in the fight for their lives — let me clear with you. … They did very well. They were very brave,” he said. “They didn’t shoot or discharge the firearm right away. This was not a case of overreaction.”
Nagata acknowledged that the officers never identified themselves as police in the moments leading up to the assault and shooting. Despite the shooting taking place at night with officers whose flashlights may have been disorienting, Nagata said police uniforms, commands and cars made it clear who they were, although he would not say whether the police car lights and sirens were in use.
Ken Lawson, a professor at the University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law, said the footage raises more questions than it answers, but he interpreted what was released as a “rush to judgment” of a Black man.
He said officers should have investigated the emergency call instead of immediately treating the scene as a hostile one, even if they had arrived to the woman screaming.
“Is the man threatening the police when they first get there? Is he threatening anybody? He’s the one standing there — she’s the one that’s frantic,” Lawson said. “The officer has to look and observe. … He’s standing there, he ain’t got a weapon, he’s not threatening them. … What that officer does is he draws his weapon, points it at the man and tells him to get down in a prone position in the rain. For what?”
The released footage does not reveal any dialogue between Myeni, who did not have a criminal history, and any of the involved police officers.
Nagata said he would have reacted just as the officers involved did.
“I would’ve done the same. It was very dark. … We don’t know if he has weapons in his waistband or in his pocket. And this was a felony case, because the officers responded to a burglary in progress, with a male in the house, and the female was distraught. … She was very frantic, she was out of control and you could feel her terror,” he said.
Lawson said he’s seen the escalation to violence many times when police interact with Black people.
“The reason why I’m skeptical is because we have seen over and over again when people have called the police on Black people and it has been fake calls,” he said. “But the reason why they can do that is because they know if they say it’s a large Black man out here attacking me, that the police are going to respond exactly as HPD responded (on Wednesday). That’s what’s dangerous about it.”
Lawson didn’t defend Myeni’s reactions, but the encounter should not have resulted in his death.
“It should not have ended in death when the person is unarmed and there’s three of you and one of him. I just don’t understand it,” he said.
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi declined to opine on the released footage until being briefed on the situation with HPD Chief Susan Ballard.
“In the spirit of transparency I support the police department’s decision to release the body cam video. However, I am waiting for a formal debrief on this incident, which I have requested from Chief Ballard, before I make any additional comments,” said Blangiardi in a statement issued to the Star-Advertiser.
HPD released the the body-worn camera footage of the shooting two days after it took place. A spokeswoman said the department was able to quickly release the footage because it was reviewing short clips of just two officers.
The footage released was not raw, but contained “relevant” clips of the encounter, Nagata said.
There have been calls to release HPD footage of police shooting Iremamber Sykap near Kalakaua Avenue and Philip Street. Sykap, a 16-year-old Micronesian boy, was shot multiple times and killed by Honolulu police April 7. Involved in that case were dozens of officers and minors, making the review of footage a more lengthy process, HPD said.
Wednesday’s shooting occurred at 91 Coelho Way. The 7,430-square-foot home on the expansive property along a narrow roadway stands out with Roman pillars, a brick half-circle driveway and cast iron gates.
The neighborhood is mostly lined with older single- family homes, some built in the mid-1960s and earlier.
Longtime area residents say a lot of cars are typically parked at the property, and many people are always coming and going from the home.
Several cars, including a Volkswagen van, three jeeps and a Toyota truck, were observed parked there.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporters Rosemarie Bernardo and Peter Boylan contributed to this report.