New ruling means taxpayers could be on the hook for Kealohas’ crimes

Kealoha's seen exiting federal court.
Kealoha's seen exiting federal court.(HNN File (custom credit))
Published: Dec. 26, 2022 at 5:28 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 27, 2022 at 10:55 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A federal judge ruled that the city could be held liable for the crimes committed by former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his estranged wife, former Honolulu Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha.

U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi rejected the city’s defense that it was not responsible for the Kealohas’ actions because they were acting in their own self-interest and weren’t enacting city policy when they framed Kat Kealoha’s uncle, Gerard Puana.

“The court is further inclined to find that Louis was the final policymaker when he ordered and authorized the surveillance of Puana,” Kobayashi wrote on Dec. 15 before dismissing the city’s motion for summary judgement the next day.

Puana is suing the Kealohas and the city after the Kealohas framed him for the theft of their mailbox.

Testimony in their criminal trial showed that the couple framed Puana to gain leverage in Kat Kealoha’s civil and financial dispute with Puana and his now-deceased mother Florence Puana.

The ruling is one of the final steps leading up to the trial ― a trial in which some experts say the odds are stacked against the city.

That’s because the Kealohas have already been convicted on criminal conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges.

“There’s no doubt based on the prior trial, that he (Louis Kealoha) ordered officers underneath his command to to engage in a conspiracy to violate this man’s civil rights. So if the city wants to go to trial, I think it’s going to be a huge mistake,” said Ken Lawson, of the University of Hawaii Law School.

“Who is gonna have to pay for the lawsuit, if it’s taken to trial and the city loses? Money is coming out of our pockets.”

Attorneys for Puana initially demanded $30 million in damages several years ago but subsequent rulings by the judge have significantly reduced the amounts they could seek.

But some experts say the damages could still exceed several million dollars because the Kealohas and the conspiring officers intentionally violated Puana’s civil rights.

“Sometimes people get wrongfully convicted and sent off to prison,” said Lawson.

“But when you talk about intentionally ― with premeditation setting somebody up to send them off to prison ... solely because you’re trying not to let them expose the fact that you stole from their mother ― then it’s gonna cost a lot of money.”

There’s no word yet on whether the city will appeal this latest ruling.