Jun. 10—In a decision that stunned family members and prompted calls for disclosure, an Oahu grand jury declined to indict three Hono lulu police officers in connection with the April 5 shooting death of an unarmed 16-year-old who was the driver of a stolen vehicle that police fired into from behind as it sat idle on Kala kaua Avenue.
The decision devastated the family of Iremamber Sykap and shocked their attorney, Eric A. Seitz, who said he has not seen a grand jury fail to return a true bill on evidence presented by a city prosecutor in nearly 50 years.
"Police work is difficult, and officers must sometimes make split-second decisions in potentially deadly situations, " said interim police Chief Rade K. Vanic, in a statement issued by the department. "Despite the many challenges, we will continue to do the best we can to protect and serve our community. We are appreciative of the jury's time and consideration."
Police and prosecutors would not name the officers involved. Sykap is one of three people shot by police this year, two of them fatally.
Nine days after Sykap was killed after allegedly attempting to escape police pursuing him and others involved in a crime spree, officers fatally shot 29 year-old Lindani Myeni, an unarmed Black man who fought with police responding to a 911 caller's allegations that Myeni walked into and out of a home she was staying in on Coelho Way in Nuuanu.
The killings prompted protests, a debate on racial profiling by police and calls for increased transparency by law enforcement and city officials. For the first time in more than 30 years, prosecutors started independent investigations of all shootings by officers.
Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steven S. Alm's office investigated the Sykap shooting and presented evidence to an Oahu grand jury Wednesday seeking indictments of three officers who were allegedly at the scene and opened fire. Sykap was the driver of a car who allegedly led police on a chase before a final attempt to evade capture ended in his death in a canal off of Kala kaua Avenue.
The grand jury declined to return indictments against any of the officers, according to prosecutors.
The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers scheduled an 11 a.m. news conference today to discuss the grand jury's decision.
"I trust in the process and the training that our officers have, " SHOPO President Malcolm Lutu told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. "This shows that our officers have a split second to make a life-and-death decision in order to keep our community safe. We are out there 24 /7 risking our lives for our communities where the crimes are getting more violent for the public and for our officers."
The Hawaii chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union joined Seitz in calling for the immediate release of grand jury transcripts.
"This is a case of tremendous public importance and the transcripts of the grand jury proceedings should be released. We need to see what evidence was presented and who were called as witnesses, " ACLU of Hawaii Executive Director Joshua Wisch told the Star-Advertiser in a statement. "If the prosecutor is not willing to release this information, then it underscores real questions about how objectively he's willing to investigate these types of charges against police officers when they kill unarmed community members."
Prosecutors are reviewing the matter, according to a news release from Alm's office.
A spokesman declined to disclose what charges prosecutors were hoping to indict the officers on or whether Alm planned to release the grand jury transcripts. Alm did not respond to a request for an interview Wednesday. In April, he said he would hold a news conference at the conclusion of his investigation.
Seitz said there may be cases where a grand jury failed to indict after a city prosecutor brought them evidence seeking a true bill but he has no personal knowledge or experience of those cases. The Sykap family did not know prosecutors were seeking an indictment and city attorneys have blocked all attempts by Seitz to get evidence in the case, including the medical examiner's report, he said.
Seitz, who has five other wrongful death lawsuits pending against the city and HPD, will request the grand jury transcripts and medical examiner's report again today.
"I'm very disturbed by this. We will get the grand jury transcripts and evaluate them. I hope the city stops putting barriers in our way, " said Seitz. "We are left in a situation where the family is simply devastated without any explanation and that's on the mayor and the city administration, they should be facilitating that."
In May the Sykap family alleged Honolulu police officers were threatening family members, randomly calling the Sykap home and saying if Iremamber's brother, Maruo, does not turn himself in, he might be shot and killed.
Police showed up at Sykap's memorial service and stopped by the family home to make threats, according to Seitz, who asked on May 20 for the intimidating behavior to stop. Police declined to comment on the allegations.
Hospital records from The Queen's Medical Center, where Sykap was taken by Emergency Medical Service personnel, show he was shot once in the back of the head, twice in the back of one shoulder and once in the back of his other shoulder, according to Seitz, who is representing the Sykap family in a wrongful death lawsuit against the officers and the city.
HPD declined to release any body-worn camera footage from the April 5 shooting of Sykap, who was killed, police said, after he drove a stolen white Honda Civic at officers on Kalakaua Avenue following a crime spree.
But video evidence from an officer's body-worn camera that was leaked to a Hono lulu television station shows the car was at a complete stop when officers standing to the side and rear of the vehicle fired into it, killing Sykap as he sat behind the wheel. The prosecuting attorney's office and HPD declined the Star-Advertiser's request for body camera footage from the shooting.
Police are investigating the leak of the footage to the station.