Honolulu police chief defends cops who shot Lindani Myeni amid calls for release of all footage

The Myeni family lawyer says that the Honolulu police department was “still hiding facts” about the incident

18 April 2021 - 19:12 By aron hyman
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Lindani Myeni, the South African shot dead by police in Hawaii this week.
Lindani Myeni, the South African shot dead by police in Hawaii this week.
Image: Supplied

Honolulu acting deputy chief Allan Nagata defended his officers who shot and killed South African rugby player Lindani Myeni on Wednesday, saying they “did everything right” as they were in “the fight for their lives”.

According to media reports, officers from the Honolulu Police Department (HPD) were forced to use lethal force when Myeni allegedly attacked them, injuring three of their officers, just after 8pm on Wednesday night.

HPD police chief Susan Ballard told local media that police had responded to a “robbery in progress” at a Nuuanu home after Myeni entered and began chatting with the homeowners, who were upset that he had come inside.

Myeni, however, left the house and was outside near his car when police responded and a few minutes later, he was dead.

Now Myeni's widow Lindsay and the family are calling for the complete 911 tape recordings and all of the footage from the police body cameras to be released to the public.

The Myeni family lawyer James Bickerton told TimesLIVE that the Honolulu police department was “still hiding facts” about the incident.

He said Honolulu police used “mag lights” which were so bright that they could be blinding to the person who they were being pointed at.

“The person in the light beam can see nothing but the light, while the police can see clearly. We see no evidence that Lindani knew the men who were threatening him were police,” said Bickerton.

“They did not announce 'police' until after they shot him. Right now we are insisting on the full release of all recordings of any kind,” he said.

He said that they had not heard the 911 tapes nor seen the body camera footage preceding “what they chose to release”.

He said police also took Myeni’s phone as evidence.

On Saturday the Honolulu police released body camera footage from two of the three police officers who responded to a call of a burglary in progress in the Hawaiian suburb.

The footage taken from the perspective of one officer who arrives at the scene shows him nearing a house where a woman standing on her porch is screaming frantically that a man is stealing a car.

When the officer turns the corner with his gun drawn and his flashlight on, the video shows Myeni speaking to a man Nagata referred to as the “second officer”.

He shouts at Myeni to get onto the ground but Nagata admitted that the officer did not announce that he was a policeman.

Myeni then launches an attack on the officer.

A third officer then arrives and announces that he is going to use a taser on Myeni but the weapon does not seem to have any effect on him.

“It was ineffective and the suspect begins assaulting the third officer. The suspect then charges towards the first officer who then fires a single shot at the suspect,” said Nagata during a press conference aired by Hawaii News Now.

“The suspect then tackles the first officer to the ground and then punches him several times in the face and head causing him to briefly lose consciousness,” he said.

“The second officer then fires three rounds at the suspect,” said Nagata.

“The footage occurs at night and the lighting is limited. It takes place in the front yard and driveway where several vehicles are parked. The officers were responding to a call from a distraught female who was reporting an unknown male in her home,” said Nagata.

“The footage you are about to see is from two of the three officers who responded. One of the officers did not activate his camera until after the shooting occurred. It is our hope that the footage that is captured will aid in understanding what transpired two nights ago,” he said.

“The investigation into this incident is continuing. Once completed it will be reviewed by the prosecutor’s office and the state law enforcement review board,” he said.

Nagata admitted that the officers did not identify themselves but added, “Hey, let’s be honest, they’re in uniform, they’re coming there with police cars, and they told him, get on the ground, comply”.

But Bickerton said the police had yet to release other vital information and the burden was on them to “come clean” because they shot an unarmed man.

“But from what we have seen we know some things. Notwithstanding HPD's claim of no racial issue here, Lindani was not even given the chance to hear the required words 'this is the police',” said Bickerton.

“He was being treated aggressively and disrespectfully from the very beginning, even though the tape shows he was standing still. The failure of the officers to identify themselves as police is unconscionable,” said Bickerton.

“It was a moonless night and the tapes show a man having a flashlight shone in his face while a woman shouted “that's him”. Lindani likely could only see lights and hear a woman yelling to the men holding the lights and a gun,” he said.

“If you point a flashlight and a gun in someone’s eyes and tell them to get on the ground, the person can't see you but will know you are not the police and that his life is in danger because the gunman does not say “police”. Fight or flight is inevitable. If Lindani chose fight, that is HPD's fault,” said Bickerton.

But Nagata said the officers were in the fight for their lives and that they “did very well” under the circumstances.

“They were in the fight for their lives, let me be clear with you. And as a result of this they did very well, they were very brave, they fought for their lives. I was very impressed with what they did. They didn’t shoot or discharge their firearm right away, this was not a case of overreaction,” he said.

Fight or flight is inevitable. If Lindani chose fight, that is HPD's fault
Myeni family lawyer James Bickerton

“As an officer with almost 30 years of experience I was frightened when I saw that, what was going on out there and I’m glad they survived,” said Nagata.

“They have their radio, they’re in uniform, although it is dark, it’s pretty clear,” he said.

He said the officers responded to a case of a burglary in progress with a male in the house and a female caller who was distraught, adding, “I would have done the same thing, and I commend them for what they did”.

“As we all saw, she was very frantic, she was out of control, and we could feel her terror,” said Nagata.

Nagata said one of the officers who was assaulted by Myeni was in hospital recovering from some “bad injuries”.

Bickerton said they were working on repatriating Myeni’s body to SA.

“The autopsy was completed but medical examiner reports in Honolulu can take upwards of three months to be completed. The body will be released by the medical examiner on Monday to a local mortuary and is expected to be flown home to SA later in the week,” he said.

“The family has had an outpouring of love and support from friends, extended family, and the community in South Africa as well as here, for which the family is very grateful, but as you can imagine it has been enormously painful for Lindsay (Myeni’s wife) even with such support,” said Bickerton.

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