HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A federal civil lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges the police chief, his deputy prosecutor wife and several police officers are guilty of engaging in a "pattern of racketeering" and conspiring with others at the Honolulu Police Department.
The allegations are unprecedented for HPD, and are part of a growing scandal involving Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha. An FBI probe is investigating the power couple for alleged civil rights violations and public corruption.
The federal civil case was filed by Gerard Puana, Katherine Kealoha's uncle, who claims he was framed and that the Kealohas staged the theft of their mailbox to have him arrested in 2013. The two sides were fighting over finances at the time.
The lawsuit says the Kealohas and five other officers, "repeatedly committed misconduct by failing to properly document events, handle evidence, and/or prepare accurate reports." and that the group "wrongfully arrested, incarcerated, and prosecuted" Puana.
The lawsuit could result in substantial monetary damages, legal experts said.
Attorney Victor Bakke, who is not involved in the case, said racketeering is a significant claim that essentially accuses the group of working together to target Puana, "acting as an organization, abusing the power of the organizations that they head."
The civil suit comes as the criminal case involving the Kealohas is also heating up. A federal grand jury has been hearing the case for more than a year and indictments are expected soon, sources say.
Ken Lawson, of the University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law, said now that the Kealohas have been accused of a crime, it will be difficult for them to continue in their positions.
"Once you accuse me of committing a crime and it's all over the news," Lawson said. The allegation is "you used people in your office to prosecute me for something that I didn't do."
The Kealohas and their attorneys have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
After the mailbox theft, which Puana alleges was staged, Puana was arrested. But the case was thrown out by a federal judge almost two years ago.
That two-year timeline is significant because it's the reason the lawsuit will be filed even though the Kealohas haven't been charged: The statute of limitations for filing a civil suit is running out.
Max Sword, chairman of the Honolulu Police Commission, said he will discuss the new developments with the other commissioners.
"We're a party of seven and we have to get together, put our heads together and decide what we're going to do when the appropriate time comes," he said.
The commission doesn't meet again until Jan. 4.