The death of Lindani Myeni is a confusing story

My friend Jeryl Bier highlighted this story on Twitter today. In involves a South African man named Lindani Myeni who moved to America with his wife Lindsay and kids in 2020. Lindani is black and wife Lindsay is white. He was a professional rugby player in South Africa who also spent his free time as a scout leader. They met at a youth hostel in 2016. He was playing an away game and she was there with a missionary trip. They married 18 months later.

After living in Miami and then Denver for a while they decided to move to Hawaii where she had grown up, figuring it would be more comfortable for them because it’s more multi-cultural. Lindsay Myeni worked as a real estate agent and Lindani, who had been working as a “industrial mechanical fitter,” stayed home to take care of their two young children.

On Wednesday April 14, the family went out for a drive around Oahu and stopped at a woodcarver’s shop:

On the day he died, Ms. Myeni said, the family toured their new home, visiting Queen Emma’s Summer Palace on Oahu. On their drive back, they stopped at a roadside woodcarver’s shack. There, Mr. Myeni became fixated on a large wooden fish hook, which the carver told them had once been used a weapon of war, but also offered spiritual protection. At $250, it was too expensive for them, but Mr. Myeni was taken with it.

“Even when we went home,” Ms. Myeni recalled, “he just said: ‘I feel like I need spiritual protection. Can we go please go back and get the hook?’”

Feeling uneasy, she said, Mr. Myeni went for a drive to clear his head.

What happened next is where things get confusing. According to police, Lindani approached a group of officers who were investigating a car break in. They told him to go away but he “asked one of the officers for money for food and asked to get into the back of a police car.”

He then got in his own car and drove to a large house nearby which was being rented by a couple. His car pulled up moments after the couple got out of their car. They entered the house and then a video doorbell recording shows he stopped to take off his shoes and put on a traditional Zulu headband called an umquele before he followed them inside. Once he entered the home, the couple became alarmed. According to them, they had an odd conversation with Lindani:

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…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.”

Had he used drugs that night? His wife’s attorney said no.

The woman called police and in the recording of the 911 call you can hear that she quickly becomes emotional and frightened as she’s talking to the dispatcher. The situation is just very odd and she’s working herself into a panic. By this point, Lindani had left the house and appeared to be heading back to his car.

Three different police officers arrived and the woman, who is still on the phone with the dispatcher, points toward Lindani when the first officer asks where he is. It’s dark out and the officer spots Lindani with his flashlight. He draws his gun and orders him to get on the ground several times. Instead, Lindani comes at him and attacks him. From this point everything happens pretty fast.

Another officer fires a taser at Lindani as he is punching at the first officer. That doesn’t work and Lindani briefly comes at him. Then when he returns to the first officer that officer fires one shot. Lindani continues the attack even after being hit in the chest. The officer is down and is briefly unconscious. Then there are three more shots fired and Lindani is down. He would later die of his injuries.

All of this was recorded on body cam video and as described it sounds like someone having some kind of mental episode and then becoming violent with police until they had no choice but to shoot him.

But there are a few other bits of information which make the situation less clear cut. For one thing, the property next door is a Hare Krishna temple which is open to anyone. Lindani’s wife thinks he intended to go there but got the wrong house. She believes that explains why he removed his shoes out front and why he put on his Zulu headband before entering, i.e. he was still looking for spiritual help of some kind.

The other thing which becomes clear from the video doorbell recording is that Lindani himself seems confused. He exited the front door less than a minute after he entered. He stood listening to the woman’s phone call from just outside the door. He had removed the headband at this point. The video doorbell recording timed out but it comes back on as the female renter is talking to the 911 dispatcher. Lindani asked, “What’s wrong?” She is in tears and replies, “Who are you?” His response was to very calmly say “I’m sorry” several times.

But just when you think he’s realized his mistake he adds, “Hey, I know you guys though. Can I see your phone?” Why does he think they know him? They have never seen him before and his insistence that he knows them is clearly freaking them out. The husband is on the phone talking to someone else. “My wife is so afraid and I don’t know what is going on,” he said. I don’t think he’s talking to Lindani so much as he’s describing the situation to whoever is on the other end of the line.

At this point, Lindani leaves the front door again and puts on his shoes which are on the porch. He says “sorry” once more with a wave toward the front door and walks away. That might have been the end of it but seconds later the police arrive.

The final bit of information which his wife (and her lawyer) believe is critical is that police never identified themselves. The first officer pointed a flashlight at him and told him to get on the ground five times. Lindani replied “Who are you? Who are you?” From that moment as the fight begins, none of the officers ever answer his question. Just 16 seconds later the first shot is fired. The first time police identify themselves was a couple seconds after the final three shots were fired.

Did Lindani know they were police? When the prosecuting attorney, Steven S. Alm, announced there would be no charges against the officers in the case, he was asked why police didn’t identify themselves:

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.”

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser put together this video below which syncs up all of the video sources. I’ve watched this several times and it’s still hard to tell what happened. On the one hand, Lindani definitely seemed confused. The bit about him walking up to police and asking to get in the police car is very odd as is his insistence that he knew the couple renting the house. But it really does seem as if he realized his mistake and was leaving when police arrived. He never threatened anyone. Police referred to this as a burglary call but there’s no evidence he took anything or had any intention to. He clearly wasn’t trying to remain unseen and most burglars don’t take off their shoes on the porch.

As for the police encounter, the police were physically overmatched. Lindani was a big, powerful rugby player who could probably have taken them all if they weren’t armed with guns. The first officer who received the most blows wound up in the hospital with facial fractures and a concussion. So once this became a fight I’m not sure the police had much of a choice. They tried to stop him with less-lethal means and it didn’t work.

The issue is the lack of announcement. Unlike the prosecuting attorney I’m not convinced that Lindani knew who they were. I see some streetlights in the background but they’re not that close. Two of the police cars were marked but they were parked on the street and we don’t see evidence they had flashers or sirens going. And finally, having a flashlight shined in your face in the dark makes it impossible to see who is behind it. Plus the fact that Lindani said “Who are you?” suggests he didn’t know.

What would have happened if instead of shouting “Get on the ground!” the officer had identified himself? Lindani looked pretty calm as he was walking away. Maybe it was having an unidentified person shouting at him that pushed him to fight. Unfortunately, we’ll never know.