Three Honolulu police officers are free of criminal charges in connection with the shooting death of a 16-year-old crime spree suspect after an Oahu district court judge ruled the prosecution did not present sufficient evidence that the trio committed murder and attempted murder.
The officers embraced their attorneys in a tearful exchange of bear hugs and congratulated one another amidst cries of relief from their families in the gallery.
“We are pleased with today’s decision. This has been challenging for our officers, the department and many in our community,” Acting Honolulu police Chief Rade K. Vanic said, in a statement. “Throughout this time, our officers have continued to serve with pride and professionalism. I thank the HPD ohana for their support.”
It was the second time the judicial system declined to prosecute the officers for the death of Iremamber Sykap, the driver of white, Honda Civic stolen from Kailua that was wanted in connection with an escalating series of violent robberies and a home invasion where the victims reported the suspects were wielding firearms. An Oahu Grand Jury did not return a true bill against the men prior to Prosecuting Attorney Steven S. Alm’s decision to charge them via criminal complaint.
“The Department of the Prosecuting Attorney is very disappointed by Judge Domingo’s ruling today relating to the officer-involved shooting of Iremamber Sykap,” said Matthew S. Dvonch, Special Counsel to the Prosecuting Attorney, in a statement.
Alm will be holding a press conference on Monday, August 23 to discuss the case.
Judge William M. Domingo ultimately sided with the defense, who argued the officers and the public were in grave danger and opened fire only after repeated attempts to pull Sykap and his crew over. They knew the car and its occupants were wanted in connection with two gunpoint robberies and a home invasion where victims told police two men threatened them with firearms, moments before they ignored commands by Fredeluces and Thom to surrender.
Sykap and his alleged accomplices gave no indication of surrendering as they led officers on a high speed chase from Kawaikui Beach park to Kalakaua Avenue, weaving through traffic, blowing through stop lights, stop signs, and intersections and at one point, hopping a median and leading officers into oncoming traffic.
Domingo dismissed the charges on the sixth day of the officers’ preliminary hearing, deciding that there was insufficient evidence to put the men on trial.
He said the incident and the evidence could not be evaluated through frame by frame captures of the officers’ body worn camera footage nor could the officers be expected to take the time to confirm the threat following a high speed pursuit of a car and a group of suspects wanted for an escalating series of gun crimes.
“We cannot chop it up,” said Domingo, explaining his ruling. “We have a situation where it is not static, the danger is always present.”
Geoffrey H.L. Thom, 42, Zackary K. Ah Nee, 26, and Christopher J. Fredeluces, 40, were part of the third watch shift that was told a white Honda Civic with Texas plates was connected to a series of crimes of brazen crimes where victims saw guns and feared for their lives.
Thom, a five-year HPD veteran, was charged with second-degree murder after allegedly firing more than 10 shots into the back of the vehicle, hitting Sykap eight times. Ah Nee, 26, who has been with the department for three years, and Fredeluces, who has 10 years of service, faced charges of second-degree attempted murder for firing their 9 mm Glock sidearms into the car.
Sykap had methamphetamine in his system at the time of his death and investigators found gunshot residue on him and the other occupants of the Civic. Police recovered a replica, air soft handgun, exactly where the trio told investigators they saw it, in the front passenger side of the vehicle. A crystal methamphetamine pipe and live rounds of real ammunition were also recovered from the car.
Domingo’s decision comes after months of protests by advocates of police transparency and non-violent tactics. They were countered by large, organized shows of support by passionate police supporters, off duty officers, fire fighters and union officials. The decision to charge the officers divided the law enforcement community as many officers scoffed at the charges following the grand jury’s decision.
“We thank Judge Domingo for his fairness and objectivity throughout this hearing. Based on the evidence, it is no surprise that the prosecutor has failed before the Grand Jury and now the Court,” said Ah Nee’s attorney, Thomas M. Otake in a statement. “Words cannot express how much overwhelmingsupport from the community has meant to Zac, and we are deeply grateful. It is our continued hope that the community can recognize that supporting the officers and understanding their actions, can coexist with a feeling of deep sympathy for the loss of the Sykap family.”
Thom smiled and embraced other officers as he left the courtroom.
“Officer Thom is grateful and humbled by the outpouring of community support for himself and his fellow officers during this difficult matter,” his attorney, Richard H.S. Sing said in a statement. “Now that the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney has failed before both the Grand Jury and the court, we hope that these baseless accusations will never be repeated.”
The officers were greeted by cheers as they left the court house, while their colleagues, including State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers President Malcolm Lutu, embraced them, shook their hands, and smiled.
“The Grand Jury spoke first, and now this Court has spoken. Freddy is deeply grateful for the overwhelming support from the community,” said Glendon.
Lutu said the ruling demonstrates what SHOPO maintained all along, the officers followed their training