Honolulu police released an audio recording of the 911 call made by a woman residing in the Nuuanu home where Honolulu police officers responded to a burglary complaint that dissolved into a violent confrontation and ended in the shooting death of 29-year-old Lindani Myeni on April 14.
The call is more than 10 minutes long and begins with a woman, who is battling a language barrier, saying to Myeni, “Please leave, please, please leave,” while her husband can be heard conversing with him. Their conversation is inaudible.
“Hello?” says the police dispatcher
The woman, whom police do not identify, replies with, “Someone entered my house. He said Lindan from South Africa.”
“Do you know who he is, do you know this man?” the dispatcher asks.
“I don’t know him. He’s in the house,” she replies. “I don’t know if he knows the owner or not. He just comes in and says some strange (inaudible).”
The woman’s voice becomes increasingly tense and fearful. She tells the dispatcher that Myeni is wearing a black T-shirt and jeans and is wandering around in the house. When asked whether Myeni is armed or is yelling at the woman and her husband, she replies “No.”
“I don’t know why he … he tried to go outside. … I don’t know,” she says.
At about the five-minute mark of the call, officers arrive on-scene, and the woman runs outside to alert officers to Myeni’s location.
“That’s him over in the dark,” she screams. “That’s him. That’s him. That’s him.”
An officer can be heard ordering Myeni to the ground before the fight breaks out.
“The officer shot him,” the woman screams. “He’s attacking the cop.”
“Oh my God,” the dispatcher says. “I just heard shots fired.”
Myeni was treated at the scene and taken to a hospital where he died of multiple gunshot wounds. The three officers were seriously injured during the fight, and only one has returned to work.
Myeni’s wife, Lindsay, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the officers and the city.
Honolulu police declined to comment on the substance of the recording, citing an ongoing investigation. Prosecuting Attorney Steven S. Alm, who is overseeing an independent investigation into the fatal police shooting, also declined comment.
Lindsay Myeni’s attorney, Jim Bickerton, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the 911 recording confirms much of what he and Myeni’s wife have been saying: that Myeni’s presence in the home was a simple misunderstanding and miscommunication that was blown out of proportion because Myeni is Black.
The woman who called 911 lives in a large vacation rental with a lot of people she does not know and a transient population of tenants, he said. Not a lot of burglars identify themselves by name and nation of origin, Bickerton said, and based on his interaction in the home, Myeni could not have known that men holding guns and ordering him to the ground without identifying themselves were police officers.
“Any logical person who just looked at the facts of this already knows there was some kind of simple misunderstanding and miscommunication. She (the 911 caller) confirms that he’s not acting aggressively. She’s obviously quite afraid for her own reasons. Her husband can be heard in the background speaking calmly with him,” said Bickerton. “Nobody is angry. These are just two strangers having a conversation, and then he leaves.”
Race played into how the police reacted to Myeni, Bickerton said, and the tensions and instances of police shooting and killing unarmed Black suspects that has played out on the mainland for years arrived in Hawaii.
“They (police) wanted to bust someone and take someone down. It’s the complete wrong approach to policing. This case is emblematic of what is wrong with policing (nationwide) and what needs to be fixed. It’s heartbreaking,” said Bickerton. “Hawaii has not really paid that much attention, but we have the same problem here, and it has to be fixed here.”
HPD declined to comment on Bickerton’s allegations. Bickerton knows the woman’s identity and is seeking to depose her, and said that her husband should also come forward and tell his story.
Malcolm Lutu, president of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, dismissed the implication that race played a role in Myeni’s death, citing the department’s diversity, consistently updated training modules for managing suspects from all walks of life, and the fact that officers repeatedly tried to subdue Myeni through nonlethal means after the scuffle broke out and before the fatal shots were fired.
The body cam footage released to the public shows an officer standing and facing Myeni with a patrol car parked on the street behind him. When officers are called to a scene, they do not hear the 911 call, but respond to the crime they are dispatched to investigate, he said.
“That’s why officers went the way they did. It was a felony response,” Lutu said. “Making entry into a residential property (without permission), that is a crime. There does not have to be a theft. It is a felony.”