Lindani Myeni with his wife, Lindsay, and their children. Photo / AP
The family of an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by Honolulu police filed a false death suit accusing officers of being motivated by racial discrimination.
Lindani Myeni, 29, broke into a house in Honolulu, sat down and took off her shoes last week, prompting the householder to call 911, police said.
Less than two days later, police released two clips of body camera footage of responding officers. In one short clip, an officer is heard screaming for Myeni to get down to the ground. Three shots were heard before an officer said, “police”.
In releasing the footage, Acting Deputy Chairman Allan Nagata admitted that the officers did not identify themselves before filming. But he said it was clear they were police, even in the dark.
The officers were in “fighting for their lives,” Nagata said, adding that Myeni had attacked the officers, punching one of them until the officer briefly passed out. The stun gun didn’t seem to have any effect on Myeni, Nagata said.
After the shooting, Chief Susan Ballard said race wasn’t a factor.
“What we do know is that even though the HPD claims it’s not about race, Lindani has been treated aggressively and disrespectfully from the start, even though the footage shows her standing still,” said Bridget Morgan-Bickerton, one of the lawyers. representing Myeni’s wife and two young children. “We also know that Lindani was subjected to deadly violence without even being given the opportunity to hear the words ‘this cop’ needed.
The lawsuit says officers shone a blinding, high-intensity flashlight onto Myeni, a South African national of Zulu descent who is married to a US citizen. A trained rugby player, he defended himself against an armed assailant, the lawsuit said.
It was the police’s fault that Myeni chose to fight when she could only see men holding lights and guns on a moonless night while a desperate woman shouted, “There she is,” said James Bickerton, another lawyer representing her family.
It is not known what Myeni was doing in the house. The property had been advertised as a vacation rental, the lawsuit said. He could either have intended to inquire about it or mistakenly thought he was visiting a nearby shrine open to the public, the lawsuit said.
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi called Myeni’s death a tragedy in his emailed statement.
“In these very difficult circumstances we ask for the patience to allow the Honolulu Police Department to carry out a thorough investigation. We will provide additional comments until the facts of the case are determined,” Blangiardi said.
A representative from the police department did not immediately comment on the lawsuit.
Myeni’s widow, Lindsay Myeni, said her family moved from the mainland US to Hawaii, where she grew up, because they felt the island’s racial diversity would make it a safer place to live in.
He said he wanted to see the entire unedited footage and any 911 footage.
“The last thing I want to do is have to go to court just a week after Lindani’s death, but our requests for information have been ignored,” he said.