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Judge denies motion to disqualify city attorney in Iremamber Sykap civil case

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / APRIL 5
                                The Honolulu Police Department investigates at Kalakaua Avenue and Philip Street after officers fatally shot 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap on April 5.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / APRIL 5

    The Honolulu Police Department investigates at Kalakaua Avenue and Philip Street after officers fatally shot 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap on April 5.

An Oahu Circuit Court judge denied a motion today to disqualify a deputy city corporation counsel from defending three officers and the city in a negligence and wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the family of 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap who was shot and killed by police April 5

Sykap ignored officers’ orders to surrender while at the wheel of a white Honda Civic during a high-speed pursuit. Police said the car Sykap was driving had been reported stolen two days earlier and connected to an armed robbery, a purse snatching and a theft.

Eric Seitz and Kevin A. Yolken, who are representing Iremamber Sykap’s grandmother Akiwine Sykap and mother, Yovita Lucio, argued that the city corporation counsel cannot represent three HPD officers and the city in the Sykap case based in large part on a Dec. 21 ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth J. Mansfield.

Mansfield disqualified the city’s attorney in a separate wrongful death case brought by the family of 26-year-old Kyle Thomas, who was shot and killed in his car by undercover police officers investigating a Mili­lani shoplifting case in February 2019. Mansfield ruled that the city corporation counsel assigned to the case “divided his loyalties when he asserted conflicting legal positions on behalf of his clients” and the city attorney could not “reasonably believe that he can provide competent and diligent representation to the city and the officer defendants under the particular circumstances of this case.”

Deputy Corporation Counsel Derek T. Mayeshiro, who is representing HPD officers Geoffrey H.L. Thom, Zackary K. Ah Nee and Christopher J. Fredeluces and the City and County of Honolulu in the Sykap case, argued that the officers understood their rights and asked the police commission to approve city attorneys to represent them, which the commission did.

He said Bradley R. Tamm, chief disciplinary counsel for the Hawaii Supreme Court and Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi signed off on the representation by corporation counsel. “This is very different from the Thomas case,” said Mayeshiro.

Seitz argued for an evidentiary hearing, saying that no one knows exactly what Tamm told Mayeshiro because it is a confidential communication.

Oahu Circuit Court Judge Dean E. Ochiai denied the motion to disqualify, saying he did not see a basis at this point for the plaintiffs to assert potential claims that could be brought by individual defendants against their own counsel.

Ochiai ordered the city to turn over all discovery packages from the Sykap criminal case against the three officers to Seitz and file an amended answer to the civil complaint within the next two weeks. The discovery material will remain confidential because of an ongoing criminal investigation into the occupants of Sykap’s vehicle, including his brother.

A settlement conference is scheduled for March 3.

Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm charged Thom, Ah Nee and Fredeluces by complaint with second-degree murder in connection with Sykap’s death after an Oahu grand jury declined to indict the officers. On Aug. 18, Judge William M. Domingo dismissed the charges during a preliminary hearing, ruling that there was insufficient evidence to put the three officers on trial.

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