Teen shot by police was driving car with pellet gun inside

  • Honolulu police Officers Geoffrey Thom, top, Christopher Fredaluces and Zackary Ah Nee sit during a preliminary hearing Tuesday for the killing of Iremamber Sykap. (Jamm Aquino/Honolulu Star-Advertiser via AP, Pool)

HONOLULU — A plastic pellet gun that looked like a firearm was found in a car driven by a 16-year-old boy in Hawaii, a police evidence specialist testified Tuesday in an ongoing hearing to determine whether there is probable cause of murder and attempted murder charges against three officers in the teen’s shooting death.

A judge began hearing testimony from witnesses last week about the April 5 shooting that killed Iremamber Sykap. Honolulu police said he was driving a stolen car linked to an armed robbery, burglary, purse-snatching and car theft. Sykap led officers on a chase immediately before the shooting, police said.

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The judge will decide whether there’s a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed and that the case can go forward to trial. The hearing is scheduled to resume Wednesday.

Officer Geoffrey Thom is charged with murder. Prosecutors said he fired 10 rounds at Sykap through the rear window of the car after it stopped at an intersection. Officers Zackary Ah Nee and Christopher Fredeluces, who also opened fire, are charged with second-degree attempted murder.

Prosecutors’ decision to pursue charges has been fraught. A grand jury refused to indict them, so prosecutors are seeking a judge’s determination that there’s probable cause for the charges.

A gun that fires plastic BBs was among the items found in the car Sykap was driving, according to testimony from Michael Lynch, an evidence specialist with the Honolulu Police Department. It was found on the floor of the front passenger side of the car, he said.

Lynch also found two magazines, one with real ammunition and one that was empty. But there were no real firearms in the car, he said.

Sgt. Adam Lipka testified that on the day of the shooting, officers were briefed about a stolen car that was involved in a purse snatching and an armed robbery where handguns were waved out of the window as the suspects were fleeing.

About 30 minutes before the shooting, the same vehicle was involved in an armed home invasion robbery, he said.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Christopher Van Marter asked Lipka whether the suspects in the car had physically hurt anyone and Lipka said he thought there was a report of a minor injury from one of the incidents.

Thomas Otake, Ah Nee’s defense attorney, asked whether “brandishing a firearm in broad daylight during a home invasion” is considered a violent act.

“Most definitely,” Lipka said.

Otake showed Lipka a photo of the BB gun and asked if he could tell whether it was a real firearm. “I would not be able to tell the difference,” Lipka said. “It looks like a real gun to me.”

Hideko Yoshihara, another evidence specialist, testified that while collecting evidence at the shooting scene, an officer gave her a backpack carrying what looked like a revolver. She said she was told it was found several blocks away and came from one of the suspects who fled the vehicle.

It was an inoperable blank-firing revolver, similar to ones that are used as movie props or at track-and-field events, said Curtis Kubo, a Honolulu police firearms expert. The one found inside the car was a pistol that uses plastic pellets, he said. Such guns will sometimes have a bright-colored barrel to show that it’s fake, but the one found in the car was all black, he said.

Police supporters and a group called Back Dah Blue gathered outside the courthouse again Tuesday, as they did last week, with cheers and applause when the trio entered and exited the downtown Honolulu building.

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Those who decried the shooting also gathered at the courthouse. Some say it shows that Hawaii isn’t immune to racial injustice and police brutality that have prompted protests in other parts of the U.S. Some in the Micronesian community say the shooting highlights the racism they face in Hawaii.

Sykap was born in Guam, a U.S. territory, to parents who were from Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia.

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