The shootings of two allegedly unarmed suspects this month were unjustified and racially motivated, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and attorneys representing one of the victims said Monday.
The ACLU said police rushed to pull their guns and opened fire on two men from communities of color consistently targeted by police: Iremamber Sykap, a 16-year-old Micronesian male who was shot and killed April 5 following an alleged crime spree; and 29-year-old burglary suspect Lindani Myeni, a Black father of two from South Africa who was gunned down after a violent altercation with police in Nuuanu on Wednesday.
“Iremamber Sykap should still be alive today,” said Wookie Kim, the ACLU of Hawaii’s legal director. “Lindani Myeni should still be alive today. The only reason they’re not is because — despite being unarmed — they were both killed by HPD officers. The trend that we’ve seen with police killings in Honolulu is extremely troubling. What we are seeing is HPD officers adopting a ‘warrior’ mentality in quickly jumping to the use of deadly force in situations that simply do not justify such use. Just as troubling is that officers seem to use these aggressive, dangerous approaches almost exclusively against people who are Black, Pacific Islander and other people of color.”
Honolulu Police Department body camera footage released Friday shows officers approaching Myeni in an aggressive manner without identifying themselves while pointing a gun at him, Kim said, the opposite of deescalation tactics.
“That Mr. Myeni was a Black man also raises questions about how racial bias, explicit or implicit, played a role in the officers’ sudden escalation to the use of deadly force,” Kim said. “That this also occurred within a couple weeks of the police shooting of Iremamber Sykap — another unarmed person of color — raises alarm bells about how racial bias influences officer behavior and how HPD simply has not done enough to recruit, train and supervise officers in a way that addresses such bias.”
The ACLU of Hawaii urged the Law Enforcement Officer Independent Review Board to immediately investigate the shootings of Sykap, Myeni and “all of the other people who have been killed by HPD but whose killings have not yet been independently investigated.”
State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers President Malcolm Lutu declined to comment on the ACLU’s statement, citing ongoing investigations into the shootings.
He reiterated that HPD officers are trained to communicate and deescalate situations by using tactics to subdue subjects.
“Deadly force is the last thing any officer wants to use,” Lutu said. “It affects our officers for the rest of their lives.”
Bridget Morgan-Bickerton, an attorney representing the family of Lindani Myeni, echoed the ACLU’s accusation of racial bias and said a request has been made for the unedited body cam footage from HPD, including 911 calls, police reports and other relevant information.
“We would be silly and have our heads in the sand if we did not consider race as a factor,” Morgan-Bickerton told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “We reviewed the tape, and we are not expert forensic body cam experts but what we do know, and HPD admitted, is that they (responding officers) rolled up on Mr. Myeni with a mag light in his face and with no announcement that they are the police. For all he knows, this is a group of vigilantes coming to get him. He has no reason to believe they are the police, and he is fighting for his life. What happened here highlights the importance of officers announcing themselves on the scene.”
HPD declined to comment on the statements by the ACLU and the Myeni family.
The Myeni investigation is ongoing and has not been sent to prosecutors, according to HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu. Chief Susan Ballard said Thursday that body cam footage from the Sykap case is still under review while investigators look at footage from 50 body cams activated that day and since the case involves juveniles, privacy laws also prevent the release of certain information, Ballard said.
HPD released excerpts from the body cam footage of Myemi’s shooting Friday.
Kim and Morgan both said officers violated the law by not announcing themselves as police officers, especially at night in poor lighting, and criticized Acting Deputy Chief Allan Nagata for commending the officers’ actions.
Kim cited HRS 703-307(2), which in part states that use of force is not justified unless the officer “makes known the purpose of the arrest,” and said HRS 803-6 also requires that “at or before the time of making an arrest, the person shall declare that the person is an officer of justice.”
“From a legal perspective, it does not appear that the officers’ use of deadly force was justified under the circumstances of either killing, even based on what has been selectively revealed by HPD,” Kim said. “And in the case of Mr. Myeni, the failure by police officers to announce themselves was dangerous, improper and unlawful. These things must not be swept under the rug. And the fact that the HPD acting deputy chief ‘commended’ the actions of his officers for the killing of an unarmed man in the case of the killing of Mr. Myeni is beyond the pale.”