Murder charges against officers surprise legal experts in light of no grand jury indictment

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Published: Jun. 15, 2021 at 5:46 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 15, 2021 at 6:24 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The murder charges against three HPD officers involved in the shooting death of 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap came as a shock to many legal experts Tuesday.

It’s the first time the Honolulu City Prosecutor has charged officers in connection with a deadly police shooting. The charges were especially blindsiding of in light of a grand jury’s decision last week not to indict the three officers.

“In 30 years, I’ve never seen a prosecutor present a case to the grand jury, get rejected, and then turn around and tried to take it to preliminary hearing,” Attorney Victor Bakke said.

“This is a step toward accountability. Accountability is essential for to maintain the public’s trust in our policing system. So this is one step,” said Deputy Public Defender Jacquie Esser, who has been vocal about police accountability.

“There’s a lot of community sentiment that Iremamber Sykap deserved to die based on his alleged prior conduct. However when looking at this murder charge, the only relevant part is the moment that the officer takes out the gun and starts shooting at Iremember Sykap,” she added.

[Read more: 3 Honolulu police officers charged in fatal shooting of 16-year-old]

In a statement, Interim HPD Chief Rade Vanic said, “We are surprised by the Prosecuting Attorney’s announcement to seek charges against the officers after a grand jury comprised of citizens decided not to indict them. 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.”

The lack of a grand jury indictment will make convicting the officers harder, according to Bakke.

”It gives the prosecutors the heads up that something’s wrong with their case because they couldn’t even establish probable cause. So how are they going to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt at trial? It’s not unheard of, prosecutors do shop the case around to grand juries and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Meanwhile, based off the evidence presented to her, Esser believes the actions of the officers were not justified.

“It’s sickening. All along, what I had been shown and the evidence that I saw — to me, it did not appear that the officers were acting out of their fear their threat of life. The officers shot 10 times to the back of the car. If you look at the bullet trajectory, it’s all to the back of the head multiple times which shows an intent to kill,” Esser said.”

SHOPO issued a brief statement on the matter saying they will trust the process and they continue to stand by their officers.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi added that the allegations against the three officers “are a very serious matter,” however the mayor’s office does not get involved with law enforcement investigation. He had no further comment on the matter.

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