HONOLULU (AP) – A Hawaii judge on Wednesday threw out murder and attempted murder charges against three Honolulu police officers for the fatal shooting of a teenager, preventing the case from going to trial.
District Court Judge William Domingo, in a court ruling, said there was no probable cause that the officers committed the crimes they were charged with.
He noted that the teenager, Iremamber Sykap, 16, led officers in a high-speed chase immediately before the April 5 shooting, refusing to receive orders to stop. He said the incident only ended after Sykap was shot and the car fell into a canal.
Honolulu prosecutors filed charges against the three officers after a grand jury declined to indict them. It is the first time in more than 40 years that a Honolulu police officer has been charged with a fatal shooting.
Officer Geoffrey Thom was charged with murder. Prosecutors said he fired 10 rounds at Sykap through the rear window of the car after it stopped at an intersection. Officers Zackary Ah Nee and Fredeluces, who also opened fire, were charged with attempted second-degree murder.
“If there was no chase at the beginning, and there were only people in the car and the officers just came up and started shooting from behind without any provocation, but that’s not what we have here,” Domingo said.
The officers silently hugged their attorneys after Domingo spoke. Some supporters of the officers gasped in the courtroom, where spectators were asked to sit 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart to observe pandemic social distancing guidelines.
The shots were fired after Sykap entered and exited traffic while traveling at 130 kph (80 mph) while driving police in a high-speed chase down city roads and streets. His brother was injured in the shooting.
The car stopped after being surrounded by police vehicles on a city street. The officers stopped near the car and ordered the occupants to get out.
“The reasonable person would think, well, you know, is it over? And it hasn’t ended at that point, ”Domingo said. The judge said the car began to move again, putting officers in danger, and that was when Thom fired his gun.
Police say the Honda was stolen and linked to a growing series of crimes in the previous days, including a purse theft, a robbery and an armed robbery.
At the lengthy hearing last month, a police evidence specialist testified that a pellet pistol that looked like a firearm was found in the car Sykap was driving. Police said they also found two magazines, one with live ammunition and one empty. But they found no real firearms in the car.
Police also testified that officers found a backpack several blocks from the shooting that came from a suspect who fled the vehicle. The backpack contained an inoperable blank revolver, which is similar to devices used as movie props or at track and field events.
Honolulu’s chief medical examiner testified that Sykap was shot eight times, including one to the back of the head and a fatal wound to the upper back, which ripped through his aorta. The medical examiner said the toxicology results showed methamphetamine in Sykap’s blood.
The case comes a year after nationwide protests over racial injustice and police brutality in other parts of the United States. Some members of the Micronesian community say the Sykap shooting highlights the racism they face in Hawaii.
Sykap was born in Guam, a United States territory, to parents who were from Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia.
This story has been corrected to show that the judge ruled on Wednesday, not Tuesday.