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Judge finds no probable cause to send 3 HPD officers to trial for shooting death of teen

Published: Aug. 18, 2021 at 12:00 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 18, 2021 at 8:12 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A judge ruled Wednesday there is insufficient evidence to find probable cause to send three Honolulu officers to trial for the April 5 shooting death of a teen.

Charges will be dismissed and it will be up to the prosecution to decide whether to appeal.

District Court Judge William Domingo agreed with the defense attorneys that the officers were in danger when the white Honda — driven by 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap — stopped in McCully, then started to move forward and reverse.

Officer Geoffrey Thom fired 10 rounds from behind the car, killing Sykap. Officers Christopher Fredeluces and Zackary Ah Nee then fired. Their attorneys said their positions around the car, combined with the knowledge that the car was used in an armed robbery, made them believe they were at risk.

“The danger is always present and whether or not someone is directly in front of the car or to the side, the term that was used was the zone of danger at this stage,” Judge Domingo said.

Domingo said he didn’t think a reasonable person would wait to figure out where the shots were coming from.

Officer Geoffrey Thom was charged with second-degree murder, while Officers Zackary Ah Nee and Christopher Fredeluces were charged with attempted murder.

In a statement, Thomas Otake, defense attorney for Ah Nee, said, “We thank the Judge for his fairness and objectivity throughout this hearing. Based on the evidence, it is no surprise that the Prosecutor has failed before the Grand Jury, and now the Court.”

HPD and the police union also praised the judge’s decision.

Meanwhile, the ruling was a blow to the Sykap family.

The Sykap family attorney Eric Seitz said in a statement, ”They are upset and do not understand why the officers will not face a criminal trial for shooting a 16-year-old boy in the back eight times when he posed no actual threat to them. I have explained to them that this ruling in the criminal case has no impact whatsoever on our litigation and certainly cannot be justified based upon the standards that apply to the claims we will now be pursuing.”

The decision came after witness testimony wrapped up in the month-long preliminary hearing.

The defense questioned HPD Lt. Taro Nakamura, a watch commander who briefed officers about a days-long crime spree reportedly connected to a stolen vehicle driven by Sykap that day.

“It appeared to be escalating in intensity and the chance for violence was up,” Nakamura said. “I was concerned for the safety of not only the public, because these cases seemed to be escalating, but I was concerned obviously for the safety of my officers.”

The hearing then proceeded with final arguments.

Deputy city Prosecutor Christopher Van Marter showed multiple body camera still images, making his case once again that no one was in front of the Honda. Therefore, no officers were in danger and there was no need for them to shoot.

“Officer Ah Nee, for reasons that are inexplicable, decides to fire four rounds at a car that is going up on a sidewalk towards a fence and into a canal,” Van Marter said. “Nobody was in danger when he did that. Nobody.”

He added, “We’re here today only because the defendants fired their gun and did so when it was not necessary, not justified under the law.”

The defense, meanwhile, argued that Van Marter had the luxury of sitting in an air conditioned room, analyzing the body camera footage frame by frame when the officers should be judged in real time.

“It’s a lot harder when you’re in that moment, faced with what they were faced with,” said defense attorney Thomas Otake.

He said the officers fired their weapons because the car was in motion and put their fellow officers in danger. The defense said innocent civilians’ lives were also in danger.

A grand jury declined to indict the officers, but the Prosecutor’s Office moved forward with charges against the three. A judge denied a motion to throw out the case because they were charged via complaint.

Despite the judge’s decision Wednesday, the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office could find ways to keep prosecuting the officers, including another grand jury panel or an appeal.

Continuing Coverage:

This story will be updated.

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