HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – A federal judge handed down a landmark verdict in a lawsuit against Honolulu Police in the 2019 fatal shooting of a 26-year-old man in Mililani.
U.S. District Judge Jill Otake ruled that the family of Kyle Thomas can file a claim against the city and HPD over the plainclothes officers’ lack of training when they surrounded his car in a residence and shot him.
The ruling also allows the family to file wrongful death and negligence claims against HPD and the city.
“These crime-fighting officers are out on the street with guns and no weapons at all. So, when faced with any kind of situation, the first step is to shoot and kill people,” said Eric Seitz, attorney for the family.
“I would say that these cases should be settled. Because the city will not have to face millions and millions of dollars in litigation expenses, and they will end up having a lawsuit against them.
Thomas was being investigated for a robbery at a nearby Walmart when his car was surrounded by officers from the HPD’s crime suppression unit. Police said Thomas drove at them, causing officers to open fire.
But in the trial, Thomas’ family said the officers did not identify themselves when they arrived at his car. They said one of the officers who shot Thomas first and a passenger grabbed Thomas’ leg to stop the bleeding.
At that point, Thomas’ leg was injured on the gas pedal, and the motion forced the car forward, according to the suit.
That’s when the officers fired the shots that killed him.
Honolulu police declined to comment on the details of the case because the case is pending.
But HPD said it is committed to providing good training for its officers.
In 2020, Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard defended the shooting as justified.
“The first officer holding the door of the vehicle feared for the second officer’s life and fired at the suspect,” he said.
But Ballard also told the police commissioner in 2020 that the department is reviewing its use of force policy.
“We are looking at doing formal training for plainclothes units, and finding intermediate weapons for them. Because at this time, they only carry guns. And it goes from touching to shooting with no choice in between,” he said.
Legal experts said the lack of police training could cost the city and HPD millions.
“They are not in designated cars. They’re not dressed, when they’re dressed … these things happen. We’ve seen too many cars shot up and people killed in Hawaii,” said Ken Lawson, of the University of Hawaii law school.
“Taxpayers are on board. If it’s settled, you’re looking at nine figures.”
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