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Honolulu prosecutor Steven Alm announces new oversight process for police shootings

Two separate teams of city prosecutors and investigators will independently review the fatal police officer involved shootings of 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap and 29-year-old Lindani Myeni as part of a new oversight process announced today by Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steven S. Alm.

Two teams with experience working in the state and federal criminal justice system will review the evidence turned over by the Honolulu Police Department, including body camera footage of the shootings. Prosecutors may interview or re-interview witnesses, collective evidence, and do whatever necessary to complete an independent review of HPD’s findings.

>> RELATED STORY: Honolulu prosecutors will conduct independent investigations of police department’s fatal shootings

None of the evidence, including the body cam footage, will be made public by prosecutors as part of an effort not to taint a prospective jury pool, Alm said, and his office will not discuss any aspect of the inquiries prior to their conclusion.

“This is a new administration and we are looking at all of the practices and procedures and we are going to do things differently, “ said Alm, speaking to reporters at the Prosecuting Attorney’s Richards Street headquarters. “Whenever you have a agency that is involved in the shooting and then responsible for investigating that shooting, you are always going to have the perception among some that it is not appropriate and that their final conclusions and recommendations may be suspect. I believe it is critical to have an independent but thorough, objective investigation into both of these cases and for any future police involved shootings of civilians.”

Ideally, a third party review board not beholden to any law enforcement agency or entity and staffed with investigators up to date on the latest techniques and procedures would be responsible for investigating police shootings but we do not have any such body, Alm, said. Prior to the procedural change, prosecutors would review evidence collected by HPD and make a recommendation. That process usually took more than a year, a timetable Alm aims to cut down.

Sykap was shot and killed April 5 after he allegedly drove a stolen Honda Civic at police officers on Kalakaua Avenue following a crime spree. Myeni was shot during a fight that left three officers seriously injured after they responded to a 911 call of a burglary in Nuuanu. The shootings came after HPD issued revisions to their use of force policy April 1. Myeni’s widow filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the three officers and the city. The prosecutor’s probes of both shootings started recently, Alm said.

“The Honolulu Police Department shares the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney’s commitment to conducting thorough, fair investigations into officer-involved shootings and will continue to cooperate with DPA investigators,” said Acting Honolulu Police Chief Aaron Takasaki-Young. “We hope to have the opportunity to discuss the proposed changes with the DPA and his staff.”

Randall Lee, an attorney and retired Circuit Court Judge who teaches criminal justice at Hawaii Pacific University, said historically prosecutors have fairly handled reviews of police shootings.

“It is always beneficial to have police shootings investigated as quickly as possible with transparent resolution. I am confident that the prosecutors would do a thorough and fair investigation,” Lee told the Star-Advertiser. “However, because the police have a close working relationship with the prosecutors, the public may still be skeptical of the investigation and/or resolution.”

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