The fatal shooting of an unarmed 29-year-old citizen of South Africa during a bloody fight with three Honolulu police officers responding to a 911 caller’s allegations of a stranger wandering through a home in Nuuanu April 14 was justified and none of the officers involved will face criminal charges, Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steven S. Alm announced today.
Lindani Sanele Myeni, 29, allegedly behaved oddly, interfered with a police investigation of a car break-in at Kewalo Basin, asked officers there for money to buy food and tried to enter one of their patrol cars, according to a report released by Alm’s office.
“The use of deadly force which resulted in Lindani Myeni’s death was justified,” said Alm, speaking to reporters this afternoon at the Prosecuting Attorney’s Richards Street headquarters. “We didn’t find any evidence that race played a role in this case.”
One of the officers at Kewalo Basin commented that the Mazda Myeni was driving did not have its lights on and speculated that Myeni was “on something” according to the report. A preliminary toxicology report revealed cannabis components in Myeni’s blood but did not determine if he was impaired the night he was killed.
About 30 minutes after his interactions with officers by the beach, Myeni drove straight to the home at 91 Coelho Way and followed Shiying “Sabine” Wang and her husband Da Ju “Dexter” Wang as they drove into the driveway of the home they were renting space in. Myeni was tailgating them, acording to Alm, and Sabine Wang called 911 and alleged that Myeni walked into her home and wandered around, telling her and her husband that he had video of them, that he lived there and owned the cat, according to the report.
Wang’s 911 called generated a burglary complaint, and three patrol officers responded to it.
In the body worn camera footage Myeni attacks an officer who does not identify himself, but points a gun at Myeni and orders him to the ground. Police do not verbally identify themselves as law enforcement officers until after he was shot four times, but police and prosecutors maintain that their uniforms, patrol cars and intentions were clear.
Myeni’s widow filed a lawsuit against HPD, and today her attorney, James J. Bickerton, filed a motion to confirm that patrol officer Brent Sylvester fired three shots at Myeni, hitting his left chest, right shoulder and right thigh, and officer Garrick Orosco fired a single shot into Myeni’s right chest.
Surveillance video showed Lindani Sanele Myeni entering the home at 91 Coelho Way in Nuuanu and then leaving while apologizing to the couple who called police.
“The loss of life is a serious matter and Mr. Myeni’s death is a tragedy. It is a difficult situation for everyone involved in the case. A lot has already been stated by many people, however this case illustrates why it is important to trust the process to uncover the facts and properly evaluate all relevant information,” Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi told the Star-Advertiser. “Police work is extremely difficult and can be very dangerous. I stand by the men and women who protect our community and wholeheartedly support our police department.”
Alm released the unedited body worn-camera footage showing the violent struggle between Myeni and Honolulu police officers. He also provided the same footage at half speed as a comparison. The body worn camera from the officer who fired a volley of three shots into Myeni ending the altercation, was not activated until after he fired.
Interim Chief Rade K. Vanic, who is out of the office until July 19, and acting Chief Ryan Nishibun, declined to answer written questions emailed to them about the incident, the status of investigations, why the officer who fired three shots didn’t turn his camera on, whether Myeni took one of the officer’s firearms, or name the officers involved.
HPD declined, again, to release any evidence in the case when requested by the Star-Advertiser today through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“When we take our oath, we know that our work will put us in serious, dangerous and potentially deadly situations. We go to great lengths to protect our community, but the tragic reality is that, in rare cases, incidents may end in the loss of a life,” said Vanic, in a statement emailed to press by a spokeswoman. “We are thankful that two of our officers were able to return to work, and we continue to support our third officer as he recovers from his injuries. We also thank the community for its ongoing support of HPD.”
State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers President Malcolm Lutu issued an email statement shortly after 4:30 p.m. today following Alm’s announcement.
“No officer wants to use deadly force when doing their job to protect our communities. This was an unfortunate tragedy and we know that the healing process for all those involved will take time,” Lutu said in an email.
Bickerton, who is representing Lindsay Myeni, Lindani’s wife, told the Star-Advertiser the civil case is not affected by this decision, and that case will address the central questions Alm did not. The Myeni family maintains that Lindani felt his life was in danger when officers did not identify themselves, pointed guns at him, flashed bright lights in his eyes and ordered him to the ground.
“Mr. Alm’s focus on the shooting ignored the first action of ordering an unarmed person to lie on the ground at gunpoint. That is ordinarily the crime of terroristic threatening, kidnapping, or reckless endangering, and it is only legal for a police officer to do this if (1) the target is aware that this is the lawful command of a police officer or (2) the police officer announces the police purpose. We know that number (2) didn’t happen, so the big question was whether Mr. Myeni knew they were officers, and not a private security detail of the hysterical 911 caller standing behind them who had, just minutes before, falsely pretended to report a “break in” to someone. We know that Lindani said “Who are you?” at least twice,” said Bickerton. “Thus, we had expected Mr. Alm’s analysis to focus on whether the justification for terroristic threatening, kidnapping or reckless endangering was present, but he never addressed it at all. If the order from unidentified persons to get on the ground at gunpoint was unlawful, then Mr. Myeni was lawfully defending himself. Mr. Alm did not address whether it was lawful for Mr. Myeni to defend himself from the unknown assailant with a gun. Without that analysis, the rest of his analysis can have no weight.”