Police barrage
kills knife-wielder

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Investigators gather at the scene of a shooting last night in which Rodney "Banks" Laulusa, 30, was killed by police. Police said Laulusa, who was visiting friends at Palolo Valley Housing, refused to drop two knives he was holding

Officers open fire on a man in a Palolo
street brandishing two knives

By Jaymes Song and Rod Ohira

Palolo Valley Housing residents are sad and outraged that police shot and killed a 30-year-old man in their neighborhood last night.

"Everybody's real upset at the police," said resident Auala Sefo this morning.

"All the cops should go to jail. Just because they have a uniform, they don't have a right to shoot somebody."

Rodney "Banks" Laulusa of Kaaawa, who was armed with two knives, was hit by a barrage of police gunfire after he ignored repeated warnings to put down the knives. He was pronounced dead in Queen's Hospital at 11:23 p.m.

It is the second case this month involving a fatal police shooting at a public housing complex. On New Year's Day, off-duty officer Teneri Maafala returned fire and killed 18-year-old Benedict "Tiki" Manupule at Mayor Wright Housing.

Sefo, a relative of Laulusa, said a police shooting would never happen in areas such as Waikiki or Hawaii Kai.

Officer Daniel Gooch, who patrols the housing projects, said it is probably true that officers might be more likely to draw their weapons in a housing area instead of other areas.

"Officers have more of a chance of getting hurt here," Gooch said. "It can be intimidating."

Internal Affairs Lt. Greg Poole, who is in charge of the investigation, said three of four officers who confronted Laulusa on Ahe Street at about 7:30 p.m. fired their weapons at him from a distance of 6 to 10 feet.

Poole declined comment on the number of casings recovered at the scene except to say that "more than five shots were fired."

Poole said a witness told police that Laulusa made the 911 call summoning police to the area. However, the witness was intoxicated last night and not able to review the 911 tape.

Last night's shooting occurred in the middle of the main roadway of the Palolo Valley complex, about 100 feet mauka of Kiwila Street.

Unlike the Mayor Wright incident, where many witnesses told investigators the officer shot Maafala in self-defense, some people who saw what happened last night felt police didn't have to shoot.

Laulusa "had the knives in his hand but wasn't threatening anyone," said Julia Matsui-Estrella. "We were yelling, 'Don't shoot, don't shoot,' and all of a sudden there were gunshots.

"I heard shots even after he fell to the ground," Matsui-Estrella added. "It was cold-blooded."

Matsui-Estrella was driving on Ahe Street when she saw the police car and first noticed Laulusa, who was walking past her car and holding "kitchen-type knives" in both hands.

"I asked him what's going on, and he said, 'I don't know,'" she said. "He seemed normal and wasn't threatening anyone.

"He started getting agitated when the guns were drawn, maybe because he was frightened," Matsui-Estrella added.

Eddie Paopao, 21, and friends ran up to Ahe Street from nearby Palolo Gym when they heard "Rodney was getting out of hand."

"They started shooting just when we got there," Paopao said. "I know I could have gotten him to put down the knives, and others there could have, too, if they gave us a chance.

"They were so close to him they didn't have to shoot to kill," Paopao added. "They shot twice, and he went down on his knees and dropped the knives. While he was on his knees, they shot three more times."

Other witnesses, however, told police there was threatening movement by Laulusa after he had been ordered to drop the knives.

"We have statements from witnesses who say he moved toward the officers before they opened fire," Poole said.

Police are trained that anyone armed with a sharp-edged object within 21 feet of an officer is in a "kill zone."

"They just left him there, face down on the road in the rain," Loa Fuitau said. "We had to go get a blanket to cover him."

Laulusa grew up in Palolo Valley Housing and often went there to visit friends.

Gooch said two of the three officers involved in last night's shooting are veteran officers. He does not know the third.

"They are great guys," he said, adding that they would only draw their weapons if they felt their lives were in danger.

The number of shots fired will be a key factor in the Internal Affairs investigation.

"We'll be investigating that further, but we know he was hit with at least five," Poole said.

Some residents criticized the slow response of emergency assistance to the scene.

"He was already shot, face down in the pavement gasping for air, and the cops were just standing around not doing anything for him," said Dahlia Asuega, president of the Palolo Valley Homes Tenants Association.

"We were yelling at them to call an ambulance," she added.

"The Fire Department (located nearby), which responds fast to Dumpster fires here, never came," Asuega said.

An ambulance arrived at 7:57 p.m., 12 minutes after being dispatched to the scene. Firefighters from the Palolo fire station responded at 7:54 p.m., but others from the unit were at Sacred Hearts Academy conducting a CPR training class.

Star-Bulletin reporter Harold Morse contributed to this report.

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