A Hilo police officer shot in the line of duty took the witness stand Thursday in Hilo Circuit Court.
Testifying in the attempted murder trial of the alleged shooter, 32-year-old Keaka Martin, Officer Joshua Gouveia said that he and fellow officers Garrett Hatada, who was also shot, and Keith Nacis responded to the report of a suspicious male hiding under a vehicle in the parking lot of the Pono Place on Kilauea Avenue at about 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 2, 2013. The report followed earlier reports of gunfire in the vicinity of nearby Wailoa State Park.
Under direct examination by Deputy Prosecutor Darien Nagata, the 32-year-old Gouveia spoke in a calm, even tone while recollecting the evening’s events, never raising his voice.
Gouveia said there was “little or no lighting in the area” when he and the others responded to the call. He said he surveyed the parking lot with his flashlight and noticed someone under a black vehicle that was not originally a pickup truck, but had been modified to resemble one.
He said that he approached the vehicle, announced himself as a police officer and crouched on his left knee, shining his flashlight underneath the vehicle from the passenger side, while Hatada approached the vehicle from the driver’s side.
“I observed a male party with short dark hair, barebacked, with what appeared to be a T-shirt or a small bag around his upper chest, throat area, and appeared to be wearing either denim shorts or pants. … I also observed a tribal tattoo on the … left arm with a star tattooed on the left hand,” Gouveia said.
Gouveia said the man’s head was initially turned toward Hatada, so he didn’t get a look at the suspect’s face.
“Within seconds of viewing the male party, the male party lowered his body from the chassis to the ground while reaching to his waistband and turning his head toward my direction,” Gouveia said. “… When he reached toward his waistband, I observed him to remove a firearm with a black lower assembly or pistol grip area and a silver slide.”
“… Once you saw this firearm, what did you do?” Nagata asked.
“I ordered him to ‘raise your hands, raise your hands. Don’t do it. Gun,’” Gouveia replied softly.
“And how loud were you saying this?”
“Loud enough for everyone in the area to figure out what it was.”
Gouveia estimated that the man was only about a foot away when Gouveia “observed a loud bang, bright flash and simultaneous hard pressure to my upper hip, thigh area.”
“After you heard the bang, saw the flash and felt the pressure, what did you do then?” Nagata inquired.
“I realized that I had been shot,” Gouveia said. “And I attempted to get out from between the vehicles, crawling on my hands and knees as fast as I could. When I reached the front of the black vehicle, I did a quick glance to my left to see if I could get behind any of the police vehicles for cover ....”
Gouveia said the police cars were too far away, so he opted for a cluster of small trees in a grassy area between the Pono Place parking lot and Just Crusin Coffee. He added that as he scrambled away, he heard “two or three more shots.”
“How quickly was this all happening?” asked Nagata.
“Within seconds,” Gouveia answered.
Gouveia said he drew his own weapon when he got to the trees, but didn’t fire. He added that Nacis radioed in the report of an officer down.
Asked how he felt when he realized he’d been shot, Gouveia replied: “I thought that the bullet might have hit an artery. … I started hyperventilating.”
Gouveia said he didn’t see the shooter leave the area. Martin was arrested the following day after a massive manhunt led to the East Palai Street home of his sister. Martin shot himself in the chest as the special-response unit arrived in an armored vehicle but survived his wound.
Steve Strauss, Martin’s court-appointed attorney, told the jury in his opening statement that the area was “pitch black” that night and neither Gouveia nor Hatada, both of whom have returned to duty, could identify Martin as the shooter from a photographic lineup. He said that police “quickly settled on Keaka Martin” as the suspect and ignored information about other possible suspects.
Strauss also said there is no proof that the gunman underneath the vehicle shot Gouveia, as the bullet was never removed from his body, so ballistics tests could not be done. He raised a friendly fire defense, stating that Gouveia was “in the direct line of fire” of Hatada’s two shots, “neither of which hit the suspect.”
“The evidence reasonably supports the conclusion that Officer Hatada shot Officer Gouveia,” Strauss said.
Strauss said the state cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Martin was the shooter who hid beneath the vehicle Nagata described as a “black modified van.” He added that the prosecution cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt an intent to kill, a necessary component of an attempted murder charge.
“The evidence will show that there was a suspect under that van and that suspect fired a weapon,” he said. “The evidence will show that Officer Hatada was likely hit from a round by that suspect’s weapon. The evidence will not show, however, that the suspect intended to kill Officer Hatada.”
Gouveia will continue testimony when the trial continues Monday at 10 a.m. in Judge Greg Nakamura’s courtroom.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.