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Police chief says lives of officers who fatally shot 29-year-old ‘were in jeopardy’

Updated: Apr. 16, 2021 at 7:28 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - HPD Police Chief Susan Ballard said three police officers tried non-lethal force first, including deploying a Taser, before fatally shooting a 29-year-old suspect multiple times in Nuuanu on Wednesday night who was repeatedly punching them.

The man had no weapons and no criminal record. When Ballard was asked whether the suspect reached for or grabbed one of the officers’ guns, she said that is still under investigation.

Ballard spoke Thursday morning, defending the officers’ actions and saying they all walked away from the incident with injuries. One of the police officers, the first on the scene, sustained multiple facial fractures and a concussion. He was last listed in stable condition, but remains hospitalized.

“This person seriously injured our officers and their lives were in jeopardy,” she said.

The suspect was identified by family as Lindani Myeni. His wife said they have two children together, and that he is originally from South Africa. They moved to the islands in January from the mainland.

The shooting happened about 8:10 p.m. Wednesday after police officers responded to a report of a burglary in progress at a Nuuanu home. The person who called 911 identified a man sitting in a vehicle nearby as the suspect and later told police that he had been exhibiting strange behavior.

“He walked into the house and he was just erratic, very odd behavior,” Ballard said, of the suspect.

“He sat down and took off his shoes and he was trying to talk to the people (homeowners) but they were very upset. He eventually walked out.”

Ballard said the first officer to arrive ordered the suspect to get on the ground.

Instead, “the suspect charged at the officer, punching him several times,” she said.

The second responding officer tried to intervene, while a third officer deployed a Taser. That Taser, Ballard said, didn’t stop the suspect.

“Officer one then fired a single round,” she said, but the suspect “continued and straddled” another officer and that’s when “officer two” fired three rounds.

“This all happened in less that one minute,” Ballard said.

The suspect was taken to an area hospital in critical condition, and was later pronounced dead. The two other officers, Ballard said, sustained multiple bruises and abrasions to their arms and legs.

She said the officers who responded have 23, 18 and 10 years of service. They were all wearing body cams, Ballard said, and that footage will be part of the investigation.

The police shooting stunned neighbors in the quiet Nuuanu community.

“We heard the gun shots. There was four of them -- pretty loud,” said Sinclair Brown, who lives nearby.

“We’re all kind of shocked, surprised it happened here.”

Hawaii News Now has requested the video from the officers’ body cams and the 911 calls.

“Body cam evidence in a situation like this is tremendous. You need that to show either way whether this shooting was justified,” said Tommy Aiu, a Hawaii News Now law enforcement analyst.

Meanwhile, toxicology reports on the suspect are not yet available.

When asked what HPD’s policy would be for an officer shooting a weapon in a case like this, Ballard said it isn’t “black and white.”

She said police “have to take into consideration the circumstances that are going on. It’s up to the officer’s discretion and being at the scene.”

Ballard noted that the suspect was Black, but quickly added:

“I think what we need to remember is it had nothing to do with race. It had to do with behavior and the fact that this person seriously injured the officers and their lives were in jeopardy,” Ballard said.

Police closed off Wyllie Street and Coelho Way as they investigated, but all roads have since reopened.

The incident comes nine days after police fatally shot a 16-year-old following a pursuit. The teenage driver was identified as Iremamber Sykap, of Aiea. Police said he was driving a stolen car linked to a days-long crime spree. HPD was pursuing the vehicle near Aina Haina before the shooting.

Sources said Sykap had more than 30 prior arrests. Three Honolulu police officers who discharged their weapons were put on administrative leave, which is standard protocol.

The investigation is still ongoing, and Ballard revealed nothing more publicly on Thursday.

There was also a deadly HPD shooting in late December in which Ballard said the 45-year-old suspect drove his car at officers at Ahuimanu Public Housing. Ballard said plainclothes officers were looking for the man in connection with a kidnapping case and to serve him with a warrant.

When they found him, Ballard said, they identified themselves and he fled on foot. The suspect, later identified as Caillen Paoakea Gentzler had 48 convictions, HPD said.

This story will be updated.

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