Three Honolulu police officers have been charged in the fatal shooting of a 16-year-old boy after body camera footage contradicted their account of what happened, prosecutors said.
Officer Geoffrey Thom, 42, a five-year veteran of the Honolulu Police Department, was charged Tuesday with one count of second-degree murder, while officers Zackary Ah Nee, 26, and Christopher Fredeluces, 40, who have been on the job for three and ten years, respectively, were charged with one count each of second-degree attempted murder, according to documents released by the Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney's office.
If convicted, the officers face a mandatory sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole, prosecutors said.
On April 5, the officers fired multiple rounds into a white Honda that had been reported stolen, killing the 16-year-old driver, Iremamber Sykap, and injuring his brother, who was in the front passenger's seat. Police had tried to pull the vehicle over, but it sped away before stopping and bumping into the back of the police car.
According to a probable cause document released Tuesday, Thom wrote in his report that Sykap "reversed" his Honda and "assaulted" and "rammed" the police car. But the damage to the police car was extremely minimal, and body camera footage of the incident did not match up with officers' description of what happened. "It is not clear whether either car deliberately hit the other car, as opposed to both cars coming into contact just by happenstance," the document states.
Thom fired 10 rounds into the rear window of the Honda, striking Sykap eight times in the back of his head and his neck, upper back, and left arm, according to the documents.
Fredeluces fired one round at Sykap but missed him. Following that first volley of gunfire, Ah Nee fired four shots at the Honda as the vehicle "climbed the sidewalk and went through a fence, before landing in a canal," the documents state.
According to prosecutors, Fredeluces wrote that he fired his weapon because "he heard gunshots, saw the driver's window shatter, and believed that shots were coming from within the vehicle." Ah Nee said he believed he saw "the butt of a firearm" on the passenger's lap, a claim that prosecutors said was not supported by the body camera footage. Rather, "the passenger is seen holding a cell phone in his right hand," the probable cause document states.
Ah Nee wrote that he fired his weapon "allegedly to protect himself, other officers, and members of the public," but prosecutors said it didn't appear that anyone was "in danger when he fired his firearm."
An autopsy found that Sykap died from multiple gunshot wounds, prosecutors said.
"The evidence supports the conclusion that the defendants' use of deadly force in this case was unnecessary, unreasonable, and unjustified under the law," the probable cause document states.
The charges come days after a grand jury declined to indict the officers — a decision that was praised by police union president Malcolm Lutu, who said in a press conference that the "no bill verdict" reinforced officers' decisions to use force.
In a statement provided to local news outlets, interim Police Chief Rade Vanic said he was "surprised" by the prosecuting attorney's announcement, calling the move to file charges following the grand jury's decision "highly unusual."
"While we await the court’s decision, we will continue to protect and serve the community as we have always done," Vanic said.
According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Tuesday's charges marked the first time in over four decades that a police shooting resulted in criminal charges.
Eric A. Seitz, an attorney who is representing Sykap's family in a civil case against the city and police department, told BuzzFeed News that the family was "very hopeful that these prosecutions will proceed and will be successful."
Seitz said he wasn't sure why the grand jury declined to file charges but added that the information released by the prosecuting attorney's office "indicated that this is a strong case."
"It looks outrageous," Seitz said.
He described the slain teen as a kid who was "kind of lost" but added that "lots of 16-year-old kids have problems in direction and knowing what they want to do and who they are."
"He had some problems, without a doubt, but nothing for which he deserved a death sentence," Seitz said.
The officers have been summoned to appear in court on the charges on June 25.