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Family, Friends Of Homeless Man Killed By Police In Makaha Want Answers

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Family, Friends Of Homeless Man Killed By Police In Makaha Want Answers

Feb 01, 2024 | 8:34 am ET
By Madeleine Valera/Civil Beat
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Brandan Maroney’s mother identified him as the man who was killed by a Honolulu police officer in Makaha on Jan. 25. Police said he was holding a knife in the middle of Farrington Highway before the shooting, but they are still investigating whether he had the knife in his hand when he was shot. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2024)
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Brandan Maroney’s mother identified him as the man who was killed by a Honolulu police officer in Makaha on Jan. 25. Police said he was holding a knife in the middle of Farrington Highway before the shooting, but they are still investigating whether he had the knife in his hand when he was shot. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2024)

A 35-year-old man who was fatally shot by Honolulu police in Makaha was suffering from mental health problems and needed assistance, not deadly force, according to his mother and others who knew him.

The shooting happened on Jan. 25 after police were called to the scene because the man, who was identified by his mother as Brandan Maroney, was walking in the middle of Farrington Highway while holding a knife and a black suitcase.

Dana Maroney, who lives near Houston, said her son was homeless and the suitcase held all of his possessions. She thinks the police should have brought a mental health professional with them to deescalate the situation. The Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed Wednesday that the man killed was Maroney and said the cause of death was “multiple gunshot wounds.”

“I think he was in crisis,” his mother said. “Obviously he was walking through the middle of the road upset.”

Honolulu Police Chief Joe Logan told reporters last week that a responding officer initially knocked the man down with a Taser after he ignored an order to drop the knife and get off the road. The man then got up and “charged” toward the second officer, who shot him twice in the chest, Logan said, adding that investigators were still trying to determine whether the knife was in his hand when he was shot.

‘A Young Man With Potential’

HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said Wednesday that the investigation was continuing.

“The officer who fired his weapon has 23 years of service and is on leave. The second officer has 16 years of service and is on full duty,” she said in an email.

She said police have been working with medical outreach teams from the city, but “our primary concern was the shortage of available mental health specialists.”

The police have not yet released body camera footage of the incident.

Dana Maroney said a detective told her the suitcase her son was holding was full of used toiletries but contained no phone or electronic device. She said her son always carried a phone or tablet, because that was his only way to contact his family.

She said her son went through cycles of deep depression and mania. He also had auditory hallucinations.

“He was a young man with potential,” she said. “He wanted a family. He was loving, he was caring. No person should have to die because they’re in a mental health crisis.” 

Michael Wonser, a Honolulu pastor who had known Brandan Maroney for nearly four years, said Brandan was never violent and it seemed uncharacteristic for him to have a knife.

“It’s not like Brandan, he never carried weapons,” Wonser said. 

Maroney moved to Hawaii with his family in 2004 and stayed after they returned to Texas.

He had been living in homeless encampments for a little more than three years since the house he had been staying in burned down, according to Wonser.

He was known to police because he hung out around people involved with crime, Wonser said. But he described Maroney as a “peacemaker” who tried to have a positive influence on those around him.

Maroney would often spend his days fishing only to turn around and share his catch with others, even if he was hungry himself, Wonser said. 

His criminal record over the last 11 years included five drug counts to which he pleaded no contest in 2013 as well as minor traffic infractions, a speeding charge that was later dismissed and three citations for being in a park after it was closed.

Wonser had tried to help Maroney by recommending counselors, bringing him food and taking him to the hospital when he was sick or injured. But, he said, Maroney didn’t like to go to hospitals and was afraid of law enforcement.

Maroney’s sister, Alexandra Moore, said her family wants answers about what transpired the moments before her brother was killed. They also want to see reforms to how police treat people going through mental health crises. 

“We want to know for sure what happened,” she said.

Advocates Say More Outreach Services Would Help

Wonser said he wishes police worked more with outreach volunteers like himself who have ties to the homeless community to help them build trust and keep interactions peaceful. 

“I don’t think HPD understands how overwhelming and how fearful it is for people that are houseless to interact with them,” he said.

Police have long grappled with the need to balance dealing with the homeless community with other law enforcement responsibilities. In 2021, the department said that behavioral health calls made up 10% to 30% of its call volume.

HPD started training officers in crisis intervention in 2019, but the number of officers who have completed the training is under 200, with some two dozen finishing the course earlier this week, according to Hawaii News Now.

The police department works with the Honolulu Emergency Services Department’s Community Outreach Response and Engagement team, but EMS Director Jim Ireland said the CORE team mostly does “proactive work” with police, such as joining them on community walks and neighborhood patrols.

Ireland could not comment about the details of last week’s shooting, but he said generally calls involving a person with a weapon are handled by police without CORE’s involvement. 

But, he said creating a specialized team within CORE that could ride along with police to more calls is a possibility. 

“Everything is on the table,” he said, “and we would look at any model that works in any other city.”

In Portland, Oregon, for example, the police department’s Behavioral Health Response Team pairs officers with mental health clinicians to respond to calls with mental health components. 

Another model in Eugene, Oregon, called CAHOOTS, has been hailed as a way to help alleviate the burden on police, who are required to respond to many social service-related calls, said Carrie Ann Shirota, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii. 

“By dispatching an alternative crisis responder we could have deescalated the situation, saved this person’s life and not endangered officers,” she said.