HONOLULU (KHON2) — KHON2 has been asking who investigates to determine if charges are warranted against police in light of the recent officer-involved shootings, and who makes sure there is transparency and accountability.
Gina Mangieri is Always Investigating and found some answers.
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Always Investigating found a patchwork of commissions, boards, self-investigations and hurdles can slow down prosecution if there is officer misconduct. There are also changes planned and top law enforcement officials say they are committed to more accountability.
“In less than two weeks, we’ve seen two unarmed people killed by the Honolulu Police Department. One of them is a 16-year-old who is killed after officers fired multiple times into his car,” Josh Wisch with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said. “The other was a husband and father, who was shot four times before the police even announced themselves as police.”
HPD’s leadership maintains deadly force is justified in both cases and is withholding video of the car incident — in which a replica gun was later recovered from the vehicle — because other juveniles are involved.
“Given the situation, officers felt that their best option to use force has unfortunately resulted in the discharge of their firearms,” deputy chief Aaron Tasaki-Young said.
“When you take a look at the information that HPD has selectively released, and then you take a look at HPD’s history of significant problems with transparency, asking us now to simply trust that everything we’re hearing from the police is true and complete is just too much to ask,” Wisch said.
Attorneys for the Lindani Myeni family, the man shot in Nuuanu, are still awaiting the 911 tapes, the full bodycam videos start to finish and even Myeni’s personal possessions — including his phone that police still have.
“We just are hoping that the police department will do the right thing and release the information that they have so that all of the people responsible for reviewing this will have full transparency and can review everything that happened that night, ” saiid Bridget Morgan-Bickerton, a Myeni family attorney.
“The full video was not released,” Tasaki-Young said. “We felt that we wanted to show the portion regarding the officers use of force up to the discharge portion.”
“Without more information, and without them releasing the tapes that we know exist, a prosecution would appear to be an order,” Morgan-Bickerton said.
The Honolulu prosecutor’s office told Always Investigating:
“The Department of the Prosecuting Attorney reviews all police-involved shootings. HPD performs its investigation and will then confer the case with us for a determination as to whether to file charges.”
HPD told Always Investigating in a statement:
“We are currently working with the prosecutor’s office to shorten the review process for officer-involved shootings.”
Always Investigating asked prosecutors what is the rationale for having to wait for HPD on cases that could result in charges filed against itself versus the prosecutor more quickly and independently investigating. The prosecutor’s office said:
“We are actively working on changing our procedures to investigate and review police shooting cases in a more comprehensive and timely manner. This work is being done very quickly and Steve Alm will be ready to announce the changes next week.”
State Attorney General Clare Connors says she could always pursue charges if misconduct is found, even if County prosecutors do not.
“If there’s some indices that comes to our attention, suggesting that that hasn’t happened, that the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney hasn’t fulfilled its mission, or that the police department hasn’t fulfilled its mission, I would figure a way to work to work with the appropriate parties or to take some other kind of action,” Connors said.
A patchwork of County police commissions and two stymied state boards are supposed to form an umbrella of oversight in the meantime.
The Law Enforcement Standards Boards has been underfunded since its inception in 2018 and lacks an executive director.
“There is no deadline that we’re operating under now in terms of what we can reasonably accomplish without an executive administrator, and without the kind of resources that we need to really come up with a system that will be incredibly important in our state, but it’s also going to be quite a different way of operating,” Connors said.
The Law Enforcement Officer Independent Review Board has only reviewed one police shooting since it was formed in 2017.
“In the last decade, there have been at least 29 people killed by HPD; 2018 and 2019 saw more killings of people by HPD than almost any other years in the past decade,” Wisch said, “and so this is not getting better, this is getting worse. I would encourage the review board to just start doing their own investigations at this point, if the county police are just going to drag their feet, then just get to work and just start doing the investigation.”