HONOLULU (KHON2) — The three Honolulu police officers involved in the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap will not be tried on murder and attempted murder charges. A judge ruled that there was “no probable cause” on Wednesday, Aug. 18, following five days of testimony.
District Court Judge William Domingo dismissed the charges against Officers Geoffrey Thom, Zackary Ah Nee and Christopher Fredeluces who were involved in the April 5 shooting that killed Sykap. It was a shocking decision to what many legal experts have called a highly unusual case,
“The court finds that there is no probable cause that Geoffrey Thom committed murder, that Ah Nee committed attempted murder, and Officer Fredeluces committed attempted murder,” said District Court Judge William Domingo.
The officers were clearly relieved and shed tears as they hugged their attorneys. The judge pointed out that the bodycam footage showed that officers had to make quick decisions in a very dangerous situation.
“I don’t think any reasonable person looking at the evidence would say, you know what you gotta wait a few seconds for us to really find out whether the shots are coming from inside the car toward you, so he shot back,” said Domingo.
Prosecutors showed bodycam footage of officers firing at a stolen car that was linked to a crime spree before Sykap drove it into the Kalakaua Stream. They said the car had already stopped and did not present any danger to the officers when they fired.
“Do you see Thom on the back of the vehicle shooting for no reason? No one’s in front of the vehicle. He was definitely not in danger where he was,” deputy prosecutor Chris Van Marter said. “No one’s in front of the car except for an empty patrol car. Still, no one in front of that car and even pedestrians — there’s no pedestrians. There’s no one around there.”
Defense attorneys focused on whether the stolen Honda driven by Sykap posed a danger to officers when they fired their weapons during closing arguments.
The three officers issued statements through their attorneys. Officer Thom said, “Now that the department of the prosecuting attorney failed before both the grand jury and the court, we hope these base-less accusations will never be repeated.”
From Officer Ah Nee: “It is our hope the community can recognize that supporting the officers and understanding their actions, can co-exist with a feeling of deep sympathy for the loss of the Sykap family.”
And from Officer Fredeluces: “The grand jury spoke first, and now the court has spoken.”
Previous testimony revealed that there were two gun replicas at the scene, as well as two magazines — one of them had six bullets. Van Marter pointed out that there were no real guns found, but defense attorneys said there was no way for police officers to know if the guns were real at the time of the shooting. They said the officers believed the suspects could have been armed. Click here for that testimony.
“They were in the zone of danger of the vehicle,” said defense attorney Tommy Otake. “You don’t have to be right in the front. You don’t have to be completely on the side. If you’re close enough to it, you’re in danger.”
On Tuesday, defense attorneys showed new surveillance video in court from a nearby apartment building that captured the fatal shooting. They said it shows that the car was moving and thus posed a danger to officers. The Honda also crashed into a police car before the shooting.
Domingo noted that Sykap led the officers on a high-speed chase immediately before the shooting and refused commands to stop. He said the incident only ended after Sykap was shot and the car fell into the Kalakaua Stream. Officers ordered the occupants to get out when the car came to a stop. Domingo said the car started moving again, put the officers in danger and that was when Thom fired his weapon.
“If there was no pursuit in the beginning, and there were just people in the car and officers just came up and started shooting from behind without any type of provocation — but that’s not what we have here,” Domingo said.
In July, prosecutors filed the charges after a grand jury declined to indict the three officers.
Thom was charged with one count of second-degree murder after prosecutors said he fired 10 rounds at Sykap through the rear window of the car. Honolulu’s chief medical examiner testified that Sykap was hit by eight of the ten shots, which hit the teenager in the back of the head, neck, back and left arm. The bullet that hit Sykap in the back of his head fractured his skull and entered his brain.
The five-year police department veteran fired the shots “without provocation” after the car came to a stop at an intersection, according to court documents. He would have faced a minimum sentence of 20 years because of the kind of gun used in the shooting, which was a 9mm Glock semi-automatic firearm.
The two other officers, Zackary Ah Nee and Christopher Fredeluces, who also opened fire, were charged with second-degree attempted murder.
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In May, Skyap’s family filed a lawsuit against the City and police alleging that officers had been harassing and threatening family members. The lawsuit also seeks injunctive relief.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.