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Shooting stays with officer for 20 years [The Honolulu Star-Advertiser :: ]
[August 31, 2014]

Shooting stays with officer for 20 years [The Honolulu Star-Advertiser :: ]

(Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 31--Hardly a day goes by when retired Honolulu Police Department officer Stan Cook doesn't think about the gunfight in Waipahu that left a 30-year-old unemployed father of three dead 20 years ago.

The Aug. 31, 1994, morning shooting was the first time an officer shot with a semi-automatic weapon survived in Hawaii, according to Eddie Croom, a retired HPD officer and former HPD historian.

Cook's target was John Sinapati, who used an AK-47 rifle against Cook's 9-mm duty handgun. The two men exchanged 41 rounds. Between the two, they were hit by 23 bullets. When the gunfire ended, Sinapati's shirtless body dangled out of his car window and Cook lay on the ground next to his police motorcycle.

A woman who was on her way to work captured the image in a photograph that gripped the public's attention. Residents and tourists sent words of support to Cook while he recovered in the hospital.

Sinapati's children have grown up, but the family declined to comment Saturday on the shooting.

"It was maybe one of the worst officer-involved shootings at the time," said Mark Barrett, who was the pastor of a church in Maui when the shooting happened. "We just took it upon ourselves in the congregation as many churches were doing and others, of course, too, and prayed for him." Cook was one of at least three officers shot by suspects -- one of them fatally -- in Honolulu over the past 20 years.

Sinapati was one of 28 people fatally shot by Honolulu police since 1994. This year, police shot and killed two people on Oahu. Police said both shootings involved men endangering others with a vehicle.

"When you go through something like that, it sticks with you," Cook said by phone from his home in Washington state. "I was probably one of the lucky ones, and I don't know why it was me, but I didn't have any (post-traumatic stress disorder) out of it. I never have." Before joining the police department in 1989 at age 49, Cook had been in the Navy and served in the Vietnam War. He had an electronics business and was also a DJ for several radio stations on Oahu.

Croom, who was the department's museum curator and historian while on the force, said the public embraced Cook after the incident, unlike recent officer-involved shootings, such as a police officer's killing of teenager Michael Brown in Missouri.

"I think what made the difference was there was no question about the shooting," he said. "They saw this guy came up against an AK-47. He did what he had to do, and he did the right thing." Croom, 67, collected artifacts of the event and put them on display in HPD's museum. The items include Cook's bullet-riddled belt and Sinapati's AK-47.

"For me it was important to show in the museum that this kind of thing does happen to officers and that they can survive," Croom said, adding that each new recruit class visits the museum. "It lets them see that it can be bad, but if you're a good officer and you follow your training, you can survive." Croom said the display also shows the public how dangerous police work can be and that officers put their lives on the line daily.

Cook said on the morning of the shooting, he had just finished working the back-to-school traffic on the H-1 freeway as a solo bike officer and was heading to a restaurant for breakfast when he noticed a car with a fraudulent license plate.

He stopped the car on Hiapo Street and asked Sinapati, who was driving, for his license. Sinapati was cooperative and Cook was going to give Sinapati a ticket for having no insurance when he saw the butt of the weapon under a jacket on the passenger seat.

When Cook asked to see what was under the jacket, Sinapati tried to cover it up, but exposed more of the weapon.

Cook told Sinapati not to touch the gun, but Sinapati raised it and Cook tried to grab it. When Sinapati pulled it back, Cook ducked behind the car and, seeing Sinapati point the gun back at him, Cook fired two shots.

Sinapati returned fire. A bullet knocked Cook back into the street and the gunfight continued with Cook on the ground alongside the vehicle. Cook fired 18 rounds -- 16 from his first magazine and two more from a second magazine. He hit Sinapati 15 times. The shooting lasted about 30 seconds.

Cook wasn't wearing a bulletproof vest, which was not mandatory at the time.

Cook said Sinapati had about $5,000 of crystal methamphetamine in the car and was high on meth.

Cook returned to work as a solo bike officer in less than five months and eventually transferred to HPD's community affairs section. He appeared in an HPD training video about the shooting and made HPD public safety announcements about driver safety that appeared on television.

He later did public talks about the shooting with police departments on the mainland.

"The training that HPD gave me basically saved my life," Cook said. "HPD has some of the best training in the country." Croom, who worked with Cook in community affairs, said Cook was a good speaker and his age garnered respect.

"He was excellent at it; people loved it," Croom said. "I don't think I ever heard him refuse questions about the shooting." Croom said Cook felt the public had a right to know how the shooting happened and how he felt about it.

"It kind of freaked me out because ifI had gone through something like that, that close to death, that's the last thing I would want to talk about," Croom said. "For him it wasn't a problem." Cook retired from HPD in 1999 and published a book about the shooting in 2013. Today he spends time maintaining his 2 1/2-acre yard and works on his hobby as a self-employed webmaster.

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