Then came a rapid round of gunfire.
An officer standing behind the vehicle hit Iremamber Sykap, the 16-year-old driver, eight times with his 9mm Glock, killing him. Another fired a shot through the driver’s window. Moments later, a third officer fired four shots, hitting the passenger in the hand and shoulder.
Now, the three officers involved in the shooting have all been charged. Prosecutors said body camera footage contradicted the officers’ claims that the teen had tried to drive into them and that they were protecting nearby pedestrians. The decision by Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steven S. Alm, which came days after a grand jury declined to indict the officers, stunned local police authorities.
“We are surprised by the prosecuting attorney’s announcement to see charges against the officers after a grand jury comprised of citizens decided not to indict them,” interim HPD chief Rade Vanic said in a statement. “This is highly unusual, and we are not aware of a similar action having been taken in the past.”
But Alm said despite the grand jury’s ruling, the evidence was still strong enough to charge officer Geoffrey H.L. Thom, 42, with second-degree murder and officers Zackary K. Ah Nee, 26, and Christopher J. Fredeluces, 40, with second-degree attempted murder.
“The evidence supports the conclusion that the defendants’ use of deadly force in this case was unnecessary, unreasonable and unjustified under the law,” the prosecutors said in the criminal complaint filed Tuesday.
If convicted, all three face mandatory life sentences with the possibility of parole, according to prosecutors, as well as at least 20 years without the possibility of parole because their alleged crimes involved semiautomatic firearms. It is unclear if the officers have lawyers yet.
The three officers were in patrol cars on April 5 when they received a dispatch at about 4:42 p.m. that a caller had reported spotting a white Honda Civic, which was reported stolen two days prior, at Kawaikui Beach in East Honolulu.
“The car was allegedly connected to several offenses, including an armed robbery, a purse snatching and a theft,” the criminal complaint said.
Shortly after arriving, they spotted the car driving out of the park and heading west. When the officers tried to pull over the Honda, it sped away, sparking a high-speed chase down the highway and eventually onto side streets.
Ten minutes later, police pinned in the car at a red light. Thom, a five-year veteran, and Fredeluces, a 10-year veteran, were in the same patrol car and pulled up next to the driver’s side, where Sykap sat. Ah Nee, who had been on the force for three years, stopped his car in front of the Honda. Another officer in a third vehicle stopped behind the car.
As Thom and Fredeluces got out, two passengers jumped out of the Honda’s rear and sprinted away.
The officers then demanded that Sykap, and the front passenger, his brother Mark Sykap, 18, get out. By that point, Fredeluces, who was standing on the driver’s side of the white Honda, “had drawn his firearm and was pointing it at the interior” of the car, according to the indictment.
Thom then pulled out a 9mm Glock semiautomatic firearm as Ah Nee tried to open the front passenger’s door — but it was locked. He also had his semiautomatic gun drawn and was pointing it at the car.
Moments later, “Thom, without provocation, started firing his firearm into the rear window of the white Honda,” prosecutors said. He fired a total of 10 rounds.
“The gunshot wound to the back of the head fractured Iremamber’s skull and entered his brain,” the indictment said. “One of the two shots to the back of Iremamber’s neck fractured his spine. One of the four gunshot wounds to Iremamber’s back lacerated his aorta — a through-and-through fatal wound. Iremamber also suffered extreme internal bleeding due to gunshot wounds to his left lung.”
Fredeluces, who was within two feet of Iremamber Sykap, fired a single round into the driver’s door, just above the handle. It did not hit Sykap.
The car, which was in drive when the 16-year-old was shot, then started moving forward, hitting Ah Nee’s patrol car and then starting toward an empty sidewalk.
Then Ah Nee, “without provocation, fired four shots,” prosecutors said. The car went up over a sidewalk and through a fence before landing in a canal.
Two of the rounds struck Mark Sykap. One went into his right shoulder and the other into his left hand.
Iremamber Sykap was later pronounced dead at a hospital. His brother was treated and released that night.
In his police reports, Thom said he fired the rounds to protect himself because the “white Honda ‘assaulted’ and ‘rammed’ into his patrol car,” according to the complaint.
But prosecutors pointed out that the car had only paint chips and scuff marks, suggesting a minor impact.
Thom also claimed the car “ ‘reversed’ directly at him,” and that it drove forward toward Fredeluces, despite body-cam footage reviewed by prosecutors that showed the car did not move. Fredeluces was also never in front of the vehicle — he was on the driver’s side.
Fredeluces wrote that he heard the gunfire and thought it was coming from inside the car. “However, before confirming his belief, he fired his 9mm Glock firearm into the driver’s door,” prosecutors said.
Ah Nee said he thought he saw the “butt of a firearm on the lap of the front seat passenger,” according to the indictment. But body-cam footage, according to prosecutors, showed a “thin square object on his lap, which does not resemble a firearm.”
He added that he fired to “protect himself, other officers and members of the public.” But prosecutors noted that there were no pedestrians nearby.
“Neither the white Honda, nor its occupants posed any threat to any person at that time,” prosecutors said.
Last month, Sykap’s mother and grandmother filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against HPD, the city and the county. The family alleged that HPD officers were harassing and threatening them. Among other demands, the family requested HPD release the officers’ body-cam footage.
Alm, the prosecuting attorney, brought the evidence before an Oahu grand jury on June 9. But the jurors declined to indict. The police union praised the decision.
“This is the first time ever since I’ve been an officer, which is 30-plus years, I’ve never seen a case go to grand jury before the case being wrapped up — closed — so this is new territory for us,” said Malcolm Lutu, the president of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers.
“I believe in the process that our officers go through. … But mostly, I believe in the training,” Lutu added.
The union did not immediately respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment regarding the charges.
The police chief said Thom, Fredeluces and Ah Nee will be put on desk duty pending trial. The three officers, who received summonses on Tuesday, are due in Honolulu District Court on June 25.