Honolulu, HI – A Hawaii District Court judge refused to allow prosecutors to pursue murder and attempted murder charges against three Honolulu police officers who fatally shot a methamphetamine-fueled 16-year-old male in a stolen car during a high-speed pursuit in April.
After five days of testimony, District Court Judge William Domingo determined there was “no probable cause” for Honolulu Police Officer Geoffrey Thom, Officer Christopher Fredeluces, and Officer Zackary Ah Nee to face charges in the April 5 death of 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap, KHON reported.
“The court finds that there is no probable cause that Geoffrey Tom committed murder, that Ah Nee committed attempted murder, and Officer Fredeluces committed attempted murder,” Domingo ruled on Wednesday.
According to court documents, Sykap was driving a stolen car that was linked to a slew of crimes leading up to the shooting, to include an armed robbery and a burglary, the Associated Press reported.
When police tried to stop him on April 5, Sykap sped off through city streets and down the highway, weaving through traffic at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour as he led officers on a high-speed chase.
The stolen car eventually stopped on a city street and officers swarmed around it, ordering the teen and his brother, who was a passenger, to get out, the Associated Press reported.
But the suspects ignored the officers’ commands.
He also crashed his vehicle into a patrol car during the ordeal, KHON reported.
“The reasonable person would think, ‘well, you know, is it over,’” Domingo said while handing down his decision, according to the Associated Press. “And it’s not over at that point.”
The suspect vehicle began moving again, placing the officers in danger, the judge said.
That’s when Officer Thom fired his weapon through the rear window of the car, which Sykap subsequently drove into the Kalakaua Stream, KHON reported.
Prosecutors claimed no one was in danger when the stolen car began moving.
“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 Prosecuting Attorney Christopher Van Marter said, according to KHON. “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.”
“They were in the zone of danger of the vehicle,” defense attorney Tommy Otake argued. “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.”
Domingo said the teen’s actions impacted the officers’ response to the perceived threat.
“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,” the judge noted, according to KHON.
Sykap was hit by eight of the 10 rounds Officer Thom fired, according to investigators.
He was struck in the back, neck, left arm, and in the back of his head, KHON reported.
Officer Fredeluces and Officer Ah Nee also fired their weapons during the incident.
Investigators recovered a replica firearm in the stolen vehicle as well as a magazine loaded with live ammunition and a magazine that was empty, the Associated Press reported.
The medical examiner concluded Sykap had methamphetamine in his blood at the time of his death.
A grand jury decided not to indict the three officers, so Honolulu prosecutors filed charges against them on their own, the Associated Press reported.
They argued that the officers should face trial regardless of the grand jury’s decision, according to the news outlet.
Honolulu prosecutors hit Officer Thom with a murder charge.
Officer Fredeluces and Officer Ah Nee were charged with second-degree attempted murder.
Van Marter told Domingo there was absolutely no reason for Officer Thom “to start blasting 10 rounds into that car,” the Associated Press reported.
“We’re talking about taking a person’s life with a gun,” Van Marter railed. “A government employee. He’s supposed to be disciplined, exercise restraint, only do something if necessary.”
State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers President Malcolm Lutu noted that Domingo’s decision marked the second time that the legal system found the officers’ actions to be justified, the Associated Press reported.
“Today isn’t a day of celebration, rather, it proves that the officers’ decision-making was justified,” Lutu said. “It does not take away from the tragedy of what happened and the impact that it has on many families.”
Sykap’s family is suing the City of Honolulu and the police department for wrongful death, as well as for allegedly harassing and threatening the family, KHON reported.
“They’ve been calling grandma and the mom. They’ve been going by their house and making threats,” the family’s lawyer, Eric Seitz, claimed in May. “Among them, threats that if the other brothers don’t turn themselves in and cooperate with the authorities, that they’re going to end up dead as well.”
The family further claimed Honolulu police sat outside the mortuary harassing people on the day of Sykap’s funeral, KHON reported.