I was utterly appalled when I read about this case.
Just when you think there might be some common sense returning to law enforcement and how officers are treated, something happens that makes you shake your head. For me this just happened… again. In Honolulu, Hawaii, three police officers are being charged by the Prosecuting Attorney in the death of one Iremamber Skyap – a 16-year-old who was driving a stolen vehicle and who fled from the police. Skyap was the suspect in a string of crimes that included another car theft and at least one armed robbery.
After the event, as is per usual, the officers were placed on leave, the incident investigated and the evidence taken before a Grand Jury. The Grand Jury returned a finding of no true bill. In other words, the Grand Jury declined to indict the officers of any crime in the incident. Typically, that would mean the officers’ actions were deemed justified; that there was no evidence of a crime.
Not so in Honolulu this time around. The Prosecuting Attorney decided to charge the officers anyway. With complete disregard for the Grand Jury’s findings, the Prosecutor’s office has charged Officer Them with murder, Officer Ah Nee and Officer Fredeluces with attempted murder. “If convicted, the officers will each serve mandatory minimum prison terms of 20 years without the possibility of parole due to their use of semiautomatic firearms in connection with the alleged offenses.”
I honestly don’t know where to begin. The phrase, “I can’t even with this…” comes to mind. I’ve been wearing a uniform for approaching 40 years now. The one life-saving / career saving / family stability saving thing that has always existed was the sensibility of the Grand Jury. Now I am FULLY aware that not all Grand Juries act with an over-arching characteristic of common sense, but more often than not they are far better than some attorney or judge who is seeking fame, advancement, political office, etc. In this case… I just don’t get it.
The Grand Jury chooses not to indict the officers. The officers were cleared of any wrong-doing. But oh no… the Prosecutor’s office isn’t happy with that and for some reason – a reason we can only speculate about – decides to charge the three officers anyway. Thankfully, the District Court judge issued a summons for the officers to appear on the 25th of this month and they haven’t been physically arrested (as far as I can find). They will face a hearing to determine if the case has probably cause to go to trial.
I hate to be the one to tell a judge and a prosecuting attorney this, but such hearing has already been held: It’s called THE GRAND JURY. The Grand Jury was presented with all of the evidence and circumstance and decided not to indict the officers. By ignoring that and choosing to charge the officers anyway, someone in the Prosecutor’s office has decided that his personal beliefs and outlooks outweigh those of the SIXTEEN Grand Jury members who cleared the officers. SIXTEEN citizens decided those three officers didn’t commit a crime but some Prosecutor decided that wasn’t good enough and chose to charge the officers anyway.
This action potentially creates a terrible precedent in our nation and goes against the very things our society seems to be screaming for. Maybe the Prosecutor’s office has decided that they have to show how harsh they’re being toward law enforcement officers. Maybe someone has a grudge or is trying to set an example. But here’s what’s really happening: 16 citizens have heard the evidence and even with today’s anti-law-enforcement overly-critical outlook, that Grand Jury felt that the officers’ actions were justified. Rather than recognize the will of the people as represented by those 16 citizen jurors, someone in the Prosecutor’s office decided to ignore the voice of the citizens and charge the officers anyway.
What makes this even more appalling is the fact that the charges are specific in mandatory sentence based on the weapon used – the ISSUED and mandated duty weapon the officers were armed with. It is utterly immoral and unethical to charge the officers with any crime that depends on the type of weapon used to make the case when it’s the officers’ issued or approved duty weapon. Maybe the goal of the Prosecutor’s office is to force the agencies to return to carrying revolvers? Does the Prosecutor’s office have a reasonable thought on what the officers SHOULD have used other than their issued/approved duty weapon?
Let’s hope that the judge who presides over the preliminary hearing dismisses the charges. Let’s hope that the Prosecutor’s office gets so much negative feedback that they dare not do this again. Let’s hope that the state judiciary in Hawaii issues the appropriate letter of counsel against whichever Prosecutor is responsible for this action. Let’s hope that a suspension of that individual’s license to practice law is issued by the state bar association in Hawaii.
If Prosecutors can do whatever they want to do, completely ignoring the Grand Jury, then the Grand Jury is valueless – both to the citizens and the officers. If the Prosecutor’s office is not bound by the Grand Jury’s decision, then an important piece of our judicial system – a system that protects all citizens equally (or at least, that’s the goal) – no longer protects anyone equally, or even attempts to. It puts all of the power into the hands of a small few with oversight only from others who were once part of their ranks.
You think recruiting and retention is low now? Let this become common practice and watch how fast it gets worse.