HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - HPD released body cam footage Friday of a police shooting in Nuuanu earlier this week that left an unarmed man dead, saying the two videos ― each less than a minute long ― show officers were in a “fight for their lives” and justified in firing their weapons.
But the videos could also raise more questions for the community, including why two responding officers didn’t identify themselves as police until after a Taser was deployed and multiple rounds fired.
After the man was shot multiple times, an officer shouts “police!”
In a news conference Friday afternoon, acting deputy Chief Allan Nagata vigorously defended the officers and said they did everything right. “They told him to get on the ground and comply. They were in uniform and gave clear instructions. Although it’s dark, it’s pretty clear,” he said. “As an officer with 30 years experience ... I’m glad they survived. They did very well and they were very brave.”
A warning to viewers: Portions of the body cam footage may be disturbing to some viewers.
The man killed by police has been identified as Lindani Myeni, 29.
He had no criminal record and no weapons, but repeatedly punched and “charged” officers at the scene, police said. Three officers were injured and one is still hospitalized with facial and head injuries.
In a statement, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said he supports HPD’s decision to release the body cam videos. “However, I am waiting for a formal debrief on this incident, which I have requested from Chief Ballard, before I make any additional comments,” Blangiardi said.
The shooting happened Wednesday night after a 911 call about a burglary in progress. Details about what actually happened before police arrived ― and whether there was ever an actual burglary ― aren’t clear. Hawaii News Now has requested the 911 calls leading up to the incident.
When officers get to the scene, according to the body cam footage, they encountered a woman who was distraught and clearly frightened. She is shown in the body cam footage directing one officer to where Myeni is near the Nuuanu home. He appeared to be walking near the end of the driveway.
“Get on the ground now! Get on the ground,” an officer can be heard yelling as he nears Myeni.
But Myeni continues to move forward and then starts throwing punches.
Here’s how Nagata described the sequence of events that led up to the shooting:
- “The suspect initially looks at the second officer and then turns and attacks the first officer.”
- “At that time, the third officer issues Taser warnings and deploys his Taser. It was ineffective and the suspect begins assaulting the third officer.”
- “The suspect again charges toward the first officer who fires a single shot at the suspect.”
- “The suspect tackles the first officer and punches him several times in the face and head, causing him to briefly lose consciousness.”
- “The second officer then fires three rounds at the suspect.”
When asked why police didn’t identify themselves until after shots were fired, Nagata said it was clear they were officers given their uniforms and marked police cars.
Complicating the situation, however, is that body cam footage is only available for two arriving officers. The body camera for the first officer to arrive wasn’t turned on.
It was also very dark at the time.
Tommy Aiu, HNN law enforcement expert, said while the scene was chaotic he believes the shooting was justified. He said one of the officers was being “violently attacked” and police had to intervene.
He also said that when police arrive at a scene, including one where a felony is reported in progress, their uniform, badge and marked police cars are identification enough.
Mounting questions about the fatal shooting prompted a chorus of advocates, experts and community members to call for HPD to quickly release the body cam footage.
In a news conference Thursday, Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard noted the three responding officers first tried to use non-lethal force by shouting at Myeni to comply and deploying a Taser.
“This person seriously injured our officers and their lives were in jeopardy,” she said.
But she also said Myeni had been behaving “oddly” before the shooting, and that only one minute elapsed from the time Myeni was ordered to get on the ground to when he was shot multiple times.
His wife, meanwhile, told Hawaii News Now that Myeni ― who is Black ― was from South Africa and that the police chief’s descriptions of his actions appear to indicate officers or those who called 911 didn’t understand his cultural customs. She described him as “gentle” and “the best father.”
Ballard said race had nothing to do with the shooting.
In the follow-up news conference Friday, Nagata said the videos show the second and then a third officer arriving at the scene about 8:10 p.m. Wednesday. The second officer can be seen, with his gun drawn, running by the house, briefly speaking to the distraught woman and then encountering Myeni.
He shouts to “get on the ground,” but Myeni continues forward and starts attacking the officers.
Earlier this week, when asked whether Myeni was aggressive toward those in the home where the incident happened, Ballard said Myeni had been exhibiting strange behavior before officers arrived.
“He walked into the house and he was just erratic, very odd behavior,” Ballard said.
“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.”
On Friday, Hawaii News Now returned to the Nuuanu house where the shooting happened to give the tenants who called 911 a chance to share their side of the story. When HNN arrived at the the Coelho Way home, the gate was open with at least a half-dozen cars parked out front.
A screen door had been left unlatched, too.
HNN knocked and then saw a man walk by the window, but only a dog came to the door.
Not far away, a neighbor who didn’t want to be identified, shared what they heard. Because of where the person was that night, they said they could hear some of what happened. The neighbor didn’t recall any sirens, just a stern voice loudly asking, “What are you doing here?”
The neighbor says she heard a fight break out and then gunshots.
Then she heard someone say “f**k” and ask, “Are you OK?”
Multiple neighbors told HNN there are new people frequently staying at the home where the shooting happened. HNN asked police if Myeni knew someone there. Police said that is under investigation.
This story will be updated.