An Oahu district court judge denied a motion to dismiss murder and attempted murder charges against three Honolulu police officers in connection with the April 5 fatal shooting of a 16-year-old who had methamphetamine in his system and was at the wheel of a stolen car that had allegedly been involved in a violent, two-day crime spree.
The ruling came before the start of a preliminary hearing to determine if there was probable cause to continue the prosecution of the officers, where both sides plan to present witnesses, body worn camera footage, police reports and other evidence.
Earlier in the hearing, the judge also dismissed a defense motion to disqualify city Deputy Prosecutor Christopher T. Van Marter.
The charges of second-degree murder against officer Geoffrey H.L. Thom, 42, a five-year veteran of the force, and second-degree attempted murder against Zackary K. Ah Nee, 26, a three-year HPD veteran, and his partner Christopher J. Fredeluces, 40, who has 10 years of service with the department, were brought by criminal complaint after an Oahu grand jury declined to indict the officers.
Richard H.S. Sing, who represents Thom, Crystal K. Glendon, counsel for Fredeluces, and Ah Nee’s attorney, Thomas M. Otake, argued that prosecutors could not deny the will of a jury of the officers’s peers and that the grand jury process is an important check on the power of a prosecutor. Doing so violates the state and U.S. constitution and precedents established by prior Hawaii Supreme Court rulings and opinions
“The grand jury should not allow them a second bite at the apple,” Sing said during the proceedings.
Speaking of the decision to charge by complaint after a grand jury declined to indict the officers, Otake said it was the “most glaring act of arrogance I’ve seen in 20 years of practicing law.”
Van Marter maintained that the Hawaii Constitution provides multiple pathways for a prosecutor to charge alleged criminals and a rand jury’s decision does not prevent prosecutors from using alternate methods to charge a suspect.
“No bills happen. It’s not unusual,” he said in court. “Some people think it is because they never served in the role of a prosecutor.”
Judge William M Domingo agreed. “Statutorily, it is allowed. There is nothing to preclude the preliminary hearing to continue in this matter,” he said this afternoon.
The preliminary hearing for the three officers began after the ruling and lasted until 4 p.m. when Domingo scheduled it to continue on Tuesday and Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.
Van Marter, Sing, Glendon and Otake all declined comment outside of the elevator bay on the fourth floor of district court following the hearing.
The three officers left with their attorneys and were met with the roar of the crowd remaining in front of the court house on Alakea Street as they walked down Alakea Street. Two police cars blocked off the far right lane of Alakea Street to create room for the officers and their supporters. Uniformed officers in orange traffic safety vests directed cars and people around the crowd.
Van Marter’s first two witnesses when the preliminary hearing started were Sho Furuta, a trauma surgeon at The Queen’s Medical Center and Masahiko Kobayashi, Honolulu Medical Examiner.
Furuta was asked about Sykap’s condition when he arrived at the hospital. Doctors performed CPR on him for 30 minutes before finally pronouncing him dead.
Sykap was in a “very, very futile condition for the trauma ward,” said Furuta.
Kobayashi testified about the eight bullet wounds Sykap sustained when officers opened fire.
“Gunshot wound number 1 was in the back of the head. The bullet fractured the skull and went into the brain tissue about one inch,” he said in court.
Only one of the 7 bullets was not recovered from Sykap’s body and turned over to evidence specialists, he said. Van Marter had Kobayashi describe each one in court.
Sykap’s toxicology report revealed methamphetamine and nicotine and their metabolites in his system. Van Marter asked if Sykap ingested the methamphetamine.
“I’m not really sure he ingested…like food,” Kobayashi testified. “He might smoke, he might ingest, I’m not really sure.”
Kobayashi did not know when Sykap took the methamphetamine.
“His system was positive for meth?,” Otake asked.
“Yes,” Kobayashi replied.
People who use methamphetamine may experience “anxiety, paranoia, aggression, hallucinations, and mood disturbances” according to U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The last witness of the day was patrol officer Masashi Uyematsu, a one and a half year veteran of the force, who road in the ambulance with Iremamber’s brother Mark as he was transported from the scene of the shooting on Kalakaua Avenue April 5.
Sing asked Uyematsu why he rode in the ambulance with Mark Sykap, who sustained a gun shot wound to the wrist.
“At the time, he was not handcuffed,” Uyematsu said. “He was still a suspect. There was a threat to EMS and other people.”
Before the hearing, more than 200 police officers, fire fighters, longshoremen and other supporters rallied in front of the courthouse on Alakea to show support for the officers and demand discipline against Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steven S. Alm for ignoring the grand jury’s decision.
Off duty police officers made up the majority of the crowd, some of them were armed and wearing their Crime Reduction Unit or Specialized Services Division tactical vests.
Others wore black T-shirts with “Support Our Officers” written across their chests in white lettering, with SHOPO, the acronym for the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers union, across the back. The large, raucous crowd lined both sides of Hotel Street in front of the court house entrance.
They were led by Wayne Kaiwi, founder of “Back Dah Blue Hawaii” who reprised his June 25 role as lead demonstrator, shouting support through a bullhorn.
“This is our ohana. This is how we do,” said Kaiwi, before the start of hearing. “Let’s keep in mind these three police officers and their families. When you see a police officer on the street, say ‘thank you’.”
Police vehicles, some with sirens on and others with lights flashing, drove by the crowds and received cheers and rounds of applause.
Others sported black T-shirts that read “Back Dah Blue” and held signs that read “Free Dah Three,” Police Risk Their Lives Every Day, Sign up or Shut up!,” and “Fight Crime, Not Police.”
“We do a lot to work with our police officers,” said Robert H. Lee, President of the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association Local 1463. “We support all of our police officers. They not only help us protect ourselves but we also work together to protect the public. We work a lot with them and as far as I know you are innocent until proven guilty. We also respect the law and due process. That’s why we are here.”
It was a similar show of force to a June 25 rally before the officers initial appearance.
The crowd also included counter-protesters supporting the prosecution of the three officers. There were more than 30 clustered on the corners of the Ewa side of Alakea Street, including members of the Sykap family.
Lesley Gabrielle was with three others holding signs and advocating for Iremamber, who she said went by the nickname “Baby.”
“We’re happy to see the case continued. The Honolulu Police Department lied about what happened. They (the officers’ attorneys) tried to get the case dismissed and they tried to get the prosecutor disqualified. We are glad these officers will have their day in court and things will play out just like it would for the rest of us if we were charged with murder or attempted murder.”