The widow of Lindani Myeni, who was shot and killed by police at a home in Nuuanu on April 14 during an alleged burglary, has filed a lawsuit against the city and three police officers for the wrongful death of her husband.
Lindsay Myeni said in a news release that she is suing the city and the three officers involved in the shooting because she has been unable to get information from the Honolulu Police Department about her husband’s death.
“The last thing I wanted to do was to have to go to court just a week after Lindani’s death, but our requests for information have been ignored. I trust that asking a jury of our peers to look at this case will help us get the information we need and the justice Lindani deserves,” she said.
Myeni’s attorney, Jim Bickerton, said, “The Honolulu Police Department is still hiding facts. Despite multiple requests, we have not heard the 911 tapes, the dispatch recordings, or seen the body-worn cam footage that precedes and follows the portion HPD chose to release. HPD is also holding Lindani’s phone as ‘evidence’ and will not even return his wedding ring or other personal effects to Lindani’s widow.”
In a news conference Thursday, he said he’s received “crickets” from HPD, which hasn’t given them any information about when those records might be released.
Bickerton said evidence available to the public shows the officers initiated the attack that night, warranting the lawsuit.
“If you shine a powerful light in someone’s face and point a gun at them and tell them to get on the ground, and you don’t tell them you’re a police officer, that is an assault and use of force in the law in Hawaii,” he said.
Bickerton called the police officers involved “Maglite muggers,” referring to the police officers’ flashlights, which he believes blinded Myeni during the fatal encounter.
Police said Myeni, a 29-year-old originally from South Africa, can be seen in footage released by HPD charging officers and fighting with them, leaving the officers with multiple injuries.
At a news conference Friday at HPD headquarters, Acting Deputy Chief Allan Nagata commended the officers involved, saying they were “brave” and “were in the fight for their lives.”
HPD leaders have said that while the officers identified themselves only after shooting Myeni, it was clear who they were. They also acknowledged the officers for using other means, including verbal commands followed by a Taser, before using their firearms.
Lindsay Myeni’s lawyers, however, said that HPD still needs to prove they had followed protocol in the killing of her husband.
Bickerton’s co-counsel, Bridget Morgan-Bickerton, said, “In using force against an unarmed man, without announcing the presence of police, the burden is on the HPD to show that they were justified in taking the actions they did. … Lindani was subjected to deadly force without even being given the chance to hear the required words ‘This is the police.’”
Bickerton said in the news conference that HPD has not said why it is withholding the complete body-worn camera footage, dispatch and 911 call recordings, and Lindani Myeni’s personal items.
That could lead to a second lawsuit, he said.
Bickerton also said there may be other footage — from street cameras or home security cameras — that could have recorded the shooting, although he hasn’t been able to confirm with HPD whether it has obtained such footage.
There has been public speculation that Myeni may have been in an altered state of mind — including suggestions that he was suffering from mental health issues or had taken drugs that night — but Bickerton dismissed that idea.
After talking to a friend who had spoken with Myeni by phone two hours before his death, Bickerton said there was no “sign of any disturbance or acting strange.”
Currently, there are few details of events leading up to the footage HPD has released of Myeni’s shooting, and Bickerton said they are still unsure why Myeni was at the 91 Coelho Way property where he was killed, but recent developments in his life might provide clues about what led to the shooting.
Myeni, who lived a few blocks away, may have never intended to be on the property or go into the home on it.
Bickerton pointed out that the home, which has been investigated for being an illegal short-term rental, is next to the ISKCON Hawaii Temple at 51 Coelho Way.
The Hinduism-based temple and the home are similar in appearance, and Bickerton said their driveways are next to each other, which could make it easy to mistake one for the other.
Myeni, who was Christian, had never been to either location before, but Bickerton said he may have meant to go to the temple that night to reflect on life-changing news he had just received.
He had an interview for his green card scheduled for a few days after his death, and Lindsay Myeni said they had found out only days prior that he was the prince of Ubombo, a small town in in South Africa that she described as a “village.”
“He was next in line to be king. … We just found that out through the green card application,” she said. “We thought the king was his uncle, but really the king is his father.”
Her last conversation with her husband was a phone call just 18 minutes prior to his death. He had left their home that night to “clear (his) mind” as the family planned how they wanted to run and improve Ubombo, including providing it with running water.
“We had big dreams of what we were about to do. That was a lot of pressure for him, but he was excited for it,” she said. “If this were a movie, this is like the climax.”
She and Bickerton also suggested that Lindani Myeni’s experiences in the high-crime area of South Africa where he lived and what he learned as a rugby player may have explained his actions with HPD officers the night he was killed.
“Ingrained” racism against Black people was also a factor, Lindsay Myeni said, and had been an issue when the family was living in Denver. The family moved to Hawaii, where she is from, believing that they would experience less discrimination.
“Mr. Myeni’s death is a tragedy,” said Mayor Rick Blangiardi in a statement issued to the Honolulu Star- Advertiser. “Under these very difficult circumstances we ask for patience to allow the Honolulu Police Department to conduct a thorough investigation. We will reserve additional comment until the facts of the case have been determined.”
HPD did not respond to questions for this story, but referred to the Honolulu Police Commission’s meeting on Wednesday regarding the department’s decision on releasing body-worn camera footage.
Lindani Myeni’s case was discussed briefly, and HPD Deputy Chief Aaron Takasaki-Young said the department decided only to release the “relevant” segments of the footage.
The Police Commission focused its questions on the police shooting of 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporter Peter Boylan contributed to this report.