HONOLULU (AP) — A former Maui police chief will lead the Hawaii board that reviews police shootings, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Wednesday.
Gary Yabuta, director of the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area in Hawaii, was unanimously selected Tuesday by the Law Enforcement Officer Independent Review Board to serve as chairman at the board's first meeting in 15 months.
“We have a job to do, plain and simple. We were chosen for this job,” said Yabuta, a 31-year veteran of the Maui Police Department. "It’s quite a task, but looking at the talent here and the dedication and the greatness about all of you, we are definitely on the right track.”
The meeting came amid questions about two recent shootings where officers killed a Black man and a Micronesian teen.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser questioned why a large part of the meeting was closed to the public at a time when use of deadly force has sparked outrage nationwide over transparency and other issues. A spokesman for the state attorney general's office told the newspaper in an email that there's a “broad statutory confidentiality provision” in the law that required the board to meet in executive session.
The board was created in 2017 under the state attorney general's Criminal Justice Division. Its members review all shootings by police officers in Hawaii, evaluate the fairness of criminal investigations and determine whether prosecution or further investigation is needed.
But the panel’s recommendations are nonbinding, and their proceedings and recommendations are mostly confidential.
The families of 29-year-old Lindani Myeni and 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap, killed in April, deserve answers now, said Georgia Thompson, who testified before the committee as a concerned mother of three young adult Black children.
“The board still seems to be unsure of themselves, their purpose and their procedures, four years after being established," she told the newspaper. “I did not get the sense that they have a solid plan, timeline or firm procedures to review the backlog of 25 other officer-involved fatalities that have occurred since they were established in 2017.”
The board also discussed hiring a public information officer.
The board's last meeting was in January 2020 because of concerns arising from the coronavirus pandemic and the resignation of several board members.
The nine-member board has two vacancies for Kauai and Hawaii counties.