HONOLULU (AP) — A judge began hearing from witnesses Tuesday to determine whether there is probable cause for murder and attempted murder charges against three Honolulu police officers in a shooting that killed a 16-year-old Micronesian boy.
On April 5, police shot and killed Iremamber Sykap. Authorities said he was driving a stolen car linked to an armed robbery, burglary, purse-snatching and car theft. Sykap led officers on a chase immediately before the shooting, police said.
Officer Geoffrey Thom, whom prosecutors said fired 10 rounds at Sykap through the rear window of the car after it stopped at an intersection, is charged with murder. Fellow Officers Zackary Ah Nee and Christopher Fredeluces, who also opened fire, are charged with second-degree attempted murder.
It’s a rare prosecution in the state that came after months of protests last year over racial injustice and police brutality in other parts of the U.S. Some in the Micronesian community say the shooting highlights the racism they face in Hawaii, a place they expected to be more welcoming to fellow islanders.
About an hour before the hearing was scheduled to begin, more than 100 police supporters lined sidewalks fronting the courthouse. Some wore shirts saying “Support Our Officers” and waved flags saying “Back Dah Blue.”
Sykap’s mother, Yovita Sykap, and the lawyer representing her in a wrongful death lawsuit, watched as police supporters clapped and cheered to a message of thanks from a supporter shouting into a megaphone.
Later in the courtroom, she listened as the judge heard arguments in two defense motions seeking to dismiss the case. Judge William Domingo denied both motions. One motion argued that it's illegal to pursue charges via a preliminary hearing after a grand jury refused to indict the officers. The other motion said it was highly unusual for a prosecutor to sign the declaration in the complaint, which is usually done by a detective or arresting officer who would could be called as a witness to testify in court.
Sykap's mother left before the preliminary hearing could begin. The judge heard from just three witnesses, including Dr. Masahiko Kobayashi, Honolulu's chief medical examiner, who described the eight gunshot wounds on the teen.
The shots included one to the back of the head and the fatal wound to the upper back, which tore the aorta, Kobayashi said.
Kobayashi also said toxicology results showed methamphetamine in his blood.
A trauma surgeon said the teen arrived at a hospital in “futile condition" and was almost immediately declared dead. Mark Sykap, a brother of the teen who was also in the car, had gunshot wounds to his right shoulder and left wrist, which didn't require surgery.
The preliminary hearing is scheduled to resume next week.
As the officers and their lawyers left the courthouse, the crowd of police supporters cheered and applauded.
“Free da tree,” they chanted in Hawaii Pidgin for “free the three.”
Some who decry the shooting and want to see the trio prosecuted stood outside the courthouse with signs, including one that read “Back da truth.” Fale Momosea held a sign with various messages, including “Justice 4 Baby,” referring to the teen's nickname.
“They had no right to shoot him,” she said. “How would you guys feel if that was your kid?"