Provocative prosecutor berates HPD, judge for actions in Sykap case

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After a grand jury and judge dismissed murder charges against three Honolulu police officers in the murder of Iremamber Sykap, Honolulu District Attorney Steve Alm made the unusual move on Monday to criticize the police department Honolulu and a district court judge for their handling of the case.

At a press conference, Alm berated HPD for allowing the officers involved in the gunshot death to write their reports in the same squad room.

The prosecutor also challenged Judge William Domingo, claiming that several parts of the hearing “intrigued and disturbed me, ”including the judge’s decision to block an expert prosecution witness, a former HPD trainer.

Honolulu prosecutor Steven Alm maintains that the shootings of Iremamber Sykap and his brother were unwarranted. Cory Lum / Civil Beat / 2021

Alm admitted his decision to prosecute the officers was unpopular among many island residents and law enforcement supporters, but dismissed the implications that he would have taken over the case to further his political aspirations.

“The idea that, you know, I’m chasing three cops to advance a political career is ludicrous,” he said. “It makes it easier for me in a lot of ways because I’m not looking for another job. “

Neal Milner, a former professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, said Alm’s statements on the case stood out among local politicians.

“What’s interesting is how different it is from the way politics and politics tend to play out in this place, which is a lot more cautious and a lot more concerned with the political implications,” a- he declared.

“You can see him as stubborn, you can see him as vindictive, you can see him as confident, what else. The guy is around. He was a judge. He’s probably less likely to take what he considers. like a bad decision by other judges. ”

The gunshot death occurred on April 5. Officer Geoffrey Thom shot a stolen Honda 10 times, killing Iremamber Sykap. Constable Zackary Ah Nee shot the driver’s brother, Mark Sykap, and injured him in the passenger seat. And Officer Christopher Fredeluces shot Iremamber Sykap but missed it.

During the preliminary hearing, Constable Chanel Price testified that the officers sat together in a room to write their reports and that a representative of the police union, the Police Officers Organization of the State of Hawaii, considered his. Alm said the ability to compare scores would not happen in other criminal cases.

“This procedure – getting together – would never be allowed in other cases involving suspects of another crime,” Alm said. “It shouldn’t have happened here.”

Meda Chesney-Lind, University of Hawaii criminologist, Alm said is right to separate the officers. Allowing them to “line up their memories” in the same room is clearly inappropriate, she said.

Ken Lawson, co-director of the Hawaii Innocence Project, agreed.

“It taints the whole investigation,” he said. “There is a reason why when the police arrive at a crime scene, they separate the witnesses. ”

SHOPO President Malcolm Lutu did not respond to a request for comment on Monday evening.

Alex Garcia, a retired police lieutenant and former union official, said there was nothing harmful or unusual about the practice.

“You want to make sure you’re specific,” he said. “I’ve never seen anyone say ‘OK, this is the story’.”

Alm, a former judge himself, said he was “surprised and disappointed” by Domingo’s conclusion that there was no likely reason to go to trial. And he disagreed with the judge’s decision to block one of the prosecution‘s expert witnesses.

John Frierson, an HPD corporal who retired in 2018, trained police recruits in Honolulu, including Fredeluces. Assistant District Attorney Christopher Van Marter told the court Frierson would testify that the officers “did everything they were trained not to do in this scenario,” including escalating the situation.

Judge William Domingo presides over the preliminary hearing as prosecutors attempt to convince the judge that there is probable cause to formally lay charges against Geoffrey Thom, who is charged with second degree murder for shooting eight times in the back on Sykap, as well as Zachary Ah Nee and Christopher Fredeluces, who are charged with attempted second degree murder for shooting Sykap and his brother.
Judge William Domingo ruled the shooting was legally justified. Cory Lum / Civil Beat / 2021

Domingo blocked the witness, saying he would only allow Frierson’s testimony if the defense brought in its own expert witness. But the defense never did.

“This then allowed the defense to decide whether Mr. Frierson would end up testifying or not. And in my opinion, that is simply wrong, ”he said.

“I would have thought Judge Domingo would have wanted as much information as possible in order to make the appropriate ruling.”

Alm also took issue with the defense argument – which the judge ultimately agreed with – that the officers were in a “danger zone” around the car Sykap was driving.

“Judge Domingo appeared to say that any time an officer is near the vehicle it is a ‘danger zone’, and that warrants the use of lethal force,” Alm said. “If these officers, in fact, were in danger, they put themselves in that position. They should then not be able to use self-defense or the defense of others “to justify their actions.

Alm said that Sykap’s alleged involvement in a wave of crimes before he was shot did not give officers the right to kill him. The law only allows officers to use lethal force if there is an immediate threat to their life or the lives of others, Alm said. Van Marter argued in court that such a threat did not exist for any of the officers.

In his ruling, Domingo said his conclusion might have been different had Sykap not led the police in a high-speed chase or engaged in what he called a “provocation.”

Alm noted that there were inconsistencies between officers’ written statements and their body camera images. He said his office gave more credit to the videos.

“We chose to believe our eyes,” he said.

Alm said officers violated HPD policy. Ultimately, the police chief will determine whether there has been a violation of policy and whether officers will be subject to disciplinary action. Acting chief Rade Vanic was unavailable for comment on Monday, according to department spokeswoman Michelle Yu.

Alm said he had the option of trying to lay charges against the officers again, but said he wouldn’t.

“The justice system has spoken,” he said. “I understand that. I agree that. The pursuit of these three officers by this office is over.


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