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The death of Lindani Myeni became a cause célèbre in South Africa, intensifying criticism there of racism in the United States and a feeling of solidarity with African Americans.
July 1, 2021, 9:23 p.m. ET
Three Honolulu police officers will not face criminal charges in the fatal shooting of a South African rugby player whose death became a cause célèbre in South Africa and intensified criticism there of police killings of Black people in the United States, prosecutors said this week.
The shooting, which took place just after 8 p.m. on April 14, came after the man, Lindani Myeni, 29, who was Black, followed a couple he did not know into a suburban home in Honolulu and then attacked the police officers who responded to a 911 call, Honolulu’s prosecuting attorney, Steven S. Alm, said at a news conference on Wednesday.
The officers were justified in using deadly force, Mr. Alm said, because Mr. Myeni repeatedly punched and kicked one of the officers who had pointed a gun at him and had told him to get on the ground, leaving the officer with multiple face fractures and a serious concussion.
Mr. Alm said two other officers had tried to stop Mr. Myeni by tackling him and using a Taser before the officer who had been attacked shot Mr. Myeni once in the chest.
Even after that shot, Mr. Myeni continued to punch the officer before another officer shot Mr. Myeni three times, hitting him in the chest and leg, Mr. Alm said. Mr. Myeni, who was not armed, died that night of multiple gunshot wounds, Mr. Alm said.
Mr. Alm identified the officers only as Officers 1, 2 and 3 at the news conference, where he showed body-camera footage of the confrontation. He said all three officers had used “multiple nonlethal, nondeadly force techniques to control Mr. Myeni before they used their service firearms.”
“We did not see any evidence that race played any part in this entire incident,” Mr. Alm added.
Bridget G. Morgan-Bickerton, a lawyer for Mr. Myeni’s widow, Lindsay Myeni, who grew up in Hawaii, said she was “very disappointed” in the decision not to charge the officers, which she called “rash and irrational.”
She said that Mr. Alm’s investigation had failed to address the “elephant in the room,” which was the officers’ failure to identify themselves as the police before they shot Mr. Myeni. She said that showed “there is a difference set of rules for Black people.”
“Not once did any of the officers say ‘police’ or state their business until after every single shot was fired,” Ms. Morgan-Bickerton said. Mr. Alm, she said, “jumped to the assumption that Lindani knew they were police,” even though it was “pitch black” that night and Mr. Myeni had asked the officers, “Who are you?”
She said the decision would not affect a pending wrongful-death lawsuit that Ms. Myeni has filed in state court against the city and county of Honolulu.
Mr. Alm said the officers did not have to identify themselves as the police, saying they were easily recognizable under the “bright” streetlights in the area.
“There was no need because it was obvious they were police,” Mr. Alm said. “They were in uniform. They could see him. He could see them.”
Rade Vanic, interim chief of the Honolulu Police Department, said in a statement: “We go to great lengths to protect our community, but the tragic reality is that, in rare cases, incidents may end in the loss of a life. We are thankful that two of our officers were able to return to work, and we continue to support our third officer as he recovers from his injuries.”
The death of Mr. Myeni, a professional rugby player who had two young children with Ms. Myeni, prompted outrage, grief and calls for justice in South Africa.
When his plastic-wrapped coffin arrived at the airport in Johannesburg in May, a youth contingent from the African National Congress party waved a “Black Lives Matter” banner emblazoned with his smiling face.
Media outlets in South Africa broadcast Mr. Myeni’s funeral and replayed the harrowing 911 call that captured his death. His name was invoked alongside those of other African immigrants killed by the police in the United States, including Amadou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant killed in New York in 1999.
The Rev. Al Sharpton had also condemned the shooting, calling it another example of the police wrongfully killing an unarmed Black man.
Mr. Alm said that two days before the shooting, Mr. Myeni had told his kickboxing instructor that he was going through “crazy African spiritual stuff.” And just before he was killed, he was behaving in a way that was “strange, even bizarre,” Mr. Alm said.
About 20 minutes before the shooting, Mr. Myeni approached several officers who were investigating a car break-in and the owner of the car, who told him to go away, Mr. Alm said. He asked one of the officers for money for food and asked to get into the back of a police car, Mr. Alm said.
Mr. Myeni then drove in his car to a nearby house and followed a husband and wife inside, Mr. Alm said. He told the woman: “I have videos of you; you know why I’m here,” according to Mr. Alm, who said Mr. Myeni did not know the couple.
According to Mr. Alm’s office, when the woman threatened to call 911, Mr. Myeni, who was wearing a feathered headband, said: “Tell them I’m from South Africa. I’m on a hunt. I’m on safari.” He then lowered his headband and said, “We’re hunting; there’s no time,” Mr. Alm said.
Mr. Myeni told the couple that he was not afraid of the police, and the woman called 911. The first officer to arrive found Mr. Myeni outside the home. He pointed his gun at Mr. Myeni and yelled: “Get on the ground! Get on the ground now!,” according to Mr. Alm.
Mr. Myeni, however, walked up to the officer and, without warning, punched him in the face and kicked him, Mr. Alm said. Another officer fired a Taser, but one of the probes missed Mr. Myeni, Mr. Alm said. A third officer tried unsuccessfully to grab Mr. Myeni and push him to the ground, Mr. Alm said.
Mr. Myeni then attacked the first officer who had pointed the gun at him, punching him repeatedly before the officer shot him in the chest, Mr. Alm said. As Mr. Myeni continued to punch the officer, the officer who had tried to tackle him pulled out his gun, told Mr. Myeni to “stop” and then shot him three times, Mr. Alm said.
Mr. Alm’s decision not to charge the officers came just weeks after he charged a Honolulu police officer, Geoffrey H.L. Thom, with second-degree murder in what prosecutors called the unjustified fatal shooting of a 16-year-old boy after a high-speed chase in April. Two other officers were charged with second-degree attempted murder for their roles in the confrontation.
“I think we’ve shown from what happened so far in the world that we take each of these cases totally independently,” Mr. Alm said.