HONOLULU — A policeman has been charged with murder and two officers charged with attempted murder in connection with the fatal shooting of a 16-year-old boy, Honolulu prosecutors said Tuesday.
The charges come after a grand jury last week declined to indict the same three officers in the shooting that killed Iremamber Sykap on April 5.
Geoffrey H.L. Thom was charged with one count of murder in the second degree.
Zackary K. Ah Nee and Christopher Fredeluces were each charged with one count of attempted murder in the second degree.
Thom is a five-year veteran of the Honolulu Police Department. Ah Nee and Fredeluces have served in the department for three and 10 years, respectively.
All three officers face up to life in prison without parole if convicted. A man who answered the phone at a number listed for Thom said he was not taking calls. Listed numbers for Ah Nee and Fredeluces could not immediately be found.
Interim Honolulu Police Department Chief Rade Vanic said he was surprised by the prosecutor’s decision to seek charges after a grand jury decided not to indict.
“This is highly unusual, and we are not aware of a similar action having been taken in the past. While we await the court’s decision, we will continue to protect and serve the community as we have always done,” he said in a statement.
The officers will have their police powers removed, and they will be assigned to desk duty.
Malcom Lutu, the president of the state police officers’ union, said in a statement: “We continue to trust the process and will continue to stand by our officers.”
Police have said Sykap was driving a stolen Honda linked to an armed robbery, burglary, purse snatching and car theft and led officers on a chase before the shooting.
Deputy Prosecutor Christopher Van Marter said in court documents that Thom fired 10 rounds into the rear window of the Honda “without provocation.” Eight of the shots hit Sykap, injuring him in the back of the head, back of the neck, upper back and left arm. Sykap was pronounced dead after arriving at the hospital.
Fredeluces fired one shot but did not hit Sykap, he said.
Van Marter said that while Thom claimed the Honda rammed into his patrol car, body camera footage didn’t show that. Thom’s patrol car sustained “a few minor paint chips and some black scuffmarks,” Van Marter said.
He said Ah Nee fired multiple times at Mark Sykap, Iremamber’s brother who was also in the car. Mark Sykap suffered gunshot wounds in his right shoulder and right hand.
Police have refused to release officer body camera footage from the shooting.
Matt Dvonch, special counsel to Honolulu prosecutor Steve Alm, said it’s not unusual for prosecutors to ask a judge to find probable cause that a crime has likely been committed after a grand jury has declined to indict a person.
He said the prosecution wasn’t bringing any new evidence for the case that they didn’t have when the case went before the grand jury.
Eric Seitz, an attorney representing Sykap’s family in a civil lawsuit against the city and as-of-yet unidentified police officers, said he was gratified prosecutors were pursuing the case.
“We have suspected from the beginning when we began to get information about how the events unfolded, that the shooting was entirely unjustified,” he said. “Now that we’ve seen the further evidence that’s contained and attached to the charges, there’s no question in our minds that this was an event that could have been and should have been prevented.”
The family’s lawsuit alleges negligence, assault and battery. It asks a state court to award damages, reimburse costs and declare that the officers’ use of deadly force was unlawful and unauthorized.
Jacquie Esser, a state deputy public defender who is not involved in the case, said it’s critical that police be held accountable for when they use excessive force and kill unarmed people or if they commit misconduct.
“This is a huge step towards accountability, which is critical for the community’s trust in their policing system,” she said.
The three officers were scheduled to appear in court on June 25.