HONOLULU (KHON2) — SHOPO held a news conference on Thursday to comment on a recent decision by an Oahu grand jury to not indict three Honolulu Police Department officers who were reportedly involved in the shooting of a 16-year-old boy on Kalakaua Avenue.
The 16-year-old, who was later identified as Iremamber Sykap, died in April after officers found him in operation of a stolen car and a chase ensued.
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Police said that the car had been linked to a series of violent crimes in the Kaimuki, Waikiki, Kailua and Moiliili areas.
Officers chased the car along Kalanianaole Highway, H-1 and Kapiolani Boulevard.
Shots were fired at the vehicle in efforts to stop it. The car then rammed two police cars before entering the Kalakaua canal at which point the people in the vehicle ran from the canal.
The others in the car ranged in age from 14 to 22.
Iremamber Sykap was critically wounded and died of his injuries.
On May 21, the grandmother and mother of Sykap filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City and County of Honolulu and HPD officers involved in his death.
His family said officers have been harassing the family and are also asking HPD to release bodycam video and 9-1-1 calls because they believe the shooting was unjustified.
“It’s not only hard on the victims involved, but it’s also hard on our officers and their families to live through something like this,” said SHOPO President Malcolm Lutu. “This is the last thing our officers want to do and are trained to do to make these types of decisions.”
Lutu reminded everyone that the officers live in the communities they serve.
“I believe in the process that our officers go through… But mostly, I believe in the training,” Lutu continued.
“We understand that part of the process is an internal investigation, so a lot of that is still not done yet, but by that no-bill verdict yesterday, it reassures that our officers decisions at that time and the actions that were taken was reinforced by that no-bill verdict,” he added.
“I would ask the public to take a step back, pause and rethink its opinions of police officers everywhere,” said Nicholas Schlapak, Honolulu Chapter Chair. “Your officers are highly trained, well disciplined and dedicated people who are risking their lives and the welfare of their families to ensure that our communities are protected. They’re working for you, not against you.”
Lutu says he was surprised the case was taken to the Grand Jury.
“This is the first time ever since I’ve been an officer ,which is 30-plus years, I’ve never seen a case go to Grand Jury prior to the case being wrapped up — closed — so this is new territory for us,” said Lutu.
Law expert Doug Chin tells us it’s appropriate for the Prosecutor’s Office to do an investigation and bring it in front of the Oahu Grand Jury.
“It’s not saying that the officers are actually guilty of anything, it’s just saying that there was probable cause to go forward. And so, it’s surprising, and yet at the same time, I think there’s not enough answers about what kind of charges were brought against the officers to really be able to know what what the Grand Jury was thinking,” said Chin.
Iremamber Sykap’s family’s attorney says he wants the grand jury transcripts of the proceedings as more questions arise.
“When Mr. Lutu acknowledge that based on his information, investigations are not even done. So my question to the Prosecutor is what are you doing, going to a Grand Jury before the investigations are even done? How can you possibly present an adequate case to the Grand Jury, unless you have all of the evidence you need to evaluate that case and to let the Grand Jury make a proper decision? I don’t know if that was done or not,” said Attorney Eric Seitz.
Chin says perception of law enforcement may be evolving.
“I think in the past there was a lot more of a willingness just to trust everything that the police officers were saying,” said Chin. “I think one of the things that’s been happening because of body-worn cameras, because of the stories that we see happening nationally, and just the sense that perhaps we’re not always supposed to 100% trust the police.”
The Prosecutor’s Office sent KHON2 News this statement via email:
“In April, Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm announced that, for the first time, the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney would conduct independent investigations into officer-involved shootings. The investigation into the officer-involved shooting at Kalakaua Avenue and Philip Street was just that, independent. It was separate from the investigation being conducted by HPD. We concluded our investigation in an expedited yet thorough manner and took the case to the Grand Jury to seek indictments against three HPD officers.
Going to Grand Jury without all the final reports from HPD is not unusual at all. Prosecutors for years have routinely taken cases to Grand Jury before all the final HPD reports are transmitted. The CID Closing Report, for example, which is a compilation of other initial reports, typically take several months to be sent to the Prosecutor’s. Defendants in the recent stabbings in Waikiki and Waipahu, along with the attempted shootings of a police officer in Waianae, were all charged prior to HPD transmitting their final reports to us.
Typically, a victim’s family is involved in the investigation if they are witnesses or can provide relevant information to the investigation. Briefing them or their attorneys is usually not a part of an ongoing investigation before any charges are brought. After that, it may well be appropriate for the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to meet with the family and keep them updated on the status of the case.”