‘I feel like a failure’: Former police union head breaks down on stand in defamation trial

He said he experienced a lot of mental “anguish” as a result of the false accusations involving former HPD chief Susan Ballard.
Published: Jan. 26, 2023 at 6:27 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 26, 2023 at 8:31 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The former head of the state police union broke into tears on the witness stand Thursday when he talked about the false allegations that he padded his overtime.

“I feel like I’m a failure, I failed my family, I failed my fellow officers,” said Tenari Maafala, who stepped down as president of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers union in 2018.

He said he experienced mental “anguish” as a result of the false accusations involving former HPD chief Susan Ballard. “Anguish that mounted year after years, after year, after year,” Maafala said. “All I am asking for is, apologize and retract your statement so that my family and I can breathe.”

Maafala is suing Ballard and the city for defamation. He said statements attributed to Ballard in a December 2017 Civil Beat article accusing him of overtime abuse damaged his reputation.

Ballard alleges she was misquoted.

[RELATED: Ex-HPD chief takes stand in defamation trial, claiming she was misquoted in news article]

During Thursday’s hearing, Maafala’s daughter also testified that some people in the community started to question her father’s integrity after the Honolulu Civil Beat article was published.

“The very department he loves serving tore him down and the whole world saw,” said Tiare Maafala.

“My superhero — who loved this job, who loved the people he served through this department — was torn down by the same department.”

Because Maafala is a public figure, his attorneys have to prove that any misstatements by Ballard were done maliciously — a high bar.

“She’s admitted (the statements) were false and that she never corrected or retracted,” said Maafala’s attorney, Lyle Hosoda.

“She didn’t do any due diligence at all to find out whether or not the overtime issue ... were true or accurate before making the statement,” Hosada added.

But city lawyers denied any malicious intent.

“There’s no evidence of any actual malice by Susan Ballard in the giving her interview to Mr. Grube (Civil Beat reporter Nick Grube.),” said Deputy Corporation Counsel Richard Lewallen.

“And the words that she used talked about ... something of legitimate public concern,” he added.

The trial resumes Monday.