HONOLULU — Police have reclassified the deadly Feb. 18 shooting of a 28-year-old man by a deputy sheriff at the state Capitol as a possible second-degree murder case after an autopsy report revealed the victim was shot in the upper back at close range.
Delmar Espejo, whom family members described as disabled, was killed during the nighttime incident outdoors at the Capitol rotunda.
At a Feb. 19 news conference, Department of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda said the shooting resulted from an “extreme struggle.” Espinda said Espejo was drinking alcohol about 8:20 p.m. in the Ewa-makai corner of the rotunda when a deputy sheriff spotted him. He said Espejo refused to dispose of his drink container, was combative and failed to obey numerous commands to stop fighting.
Espinda alleged that Espejo wrapped his arms around the deputy sheriff’s head and upper torso, and that’s when the sheriff’s firearm discharged, fatally wounding Espejo. Despite an abundance of security cameras at the rotunda, Espinda said there was no surveillance footage of the shooting.
Police initially classified the incident as an unattended death, but it’s now being investigated as a second-degree murder case, according to Honolulu Police Department spokeswoman Michelle Yu.
The Department of Public Safety did not respond to a Honolulu Star-Advertiser request to comment on the development.
The deputy sheriff involved in the shooting was hired by DPS in May 2017. He was placed on administrative leave and restricted duty, but information on his current status was not immediately available.
Myles Breiner, attorney for Espejo’s family, said the April 18 autopsy report by the Honolulu Medical Examiner contradicts Espinda’s account of the shooting. The report, which Breiner provided to the Star-Advertiser on Wednesday, shows that Espejo was shot at close range from a downward angle, with the entry wound located in his upper back, 12 inches below the top of his head.
The bullet exited Espejo’s chest 2 inches below the entry wound, the report said.
“It looks less like a struggle and more like someone who had been subdued,” possibly “down on his knees” or on the ground, Breiner said.
The fatal bullet was never recovered. “It blew right through his chest,” Breiner said.
He said the report described the skin surrounding the entry wound as having “black soot and searing,” indicating the sheriff’s firearm was close enough to burn Espejo’s flesh.
Espejo was a slight man who stood 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 117 pounds, the report said. Breiner said his legs were spindly from congenital polio, and the autopsy said both his lower legs had linear, well-healed scars.
Eugene Espejo said his brother had surgery to his legs and feet as a child at Shriners Hospital for Children and walked with a limp. He said it was painful for his brother to stand.
Breiner contended Espinda created a false narrative of the shooting.
“Either Nolan Espinda was completely misinformed or knew how bad it was going to be,” he said.