Experts: Criminal case against former HPD chief, wife could bolster civil suits against city

Outcome of Kealoha's federal case could play a role in smaller civil suits
Updated: Oct. 23, 2017 at 10:44 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The sweeping federal criminal indictment against former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, his wife Katherine and several current and former members of the HPD's elite criminal intelligence unit could have a huge impact on the civil suits against the Kealohas and the city, legal expert said.

That's because the federal indictment mirrors many of the allegations raised in a civil lawsuit by the Kealoha's uncle, Gerard Puana, they said.

Former Honolulu Mayor and city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle said that if the Kealohas are convicted on federal charges, then those same allegations against them in the civil case are considered proven.

The burden of proof for a criminal case -- proof beyond reasonable double -- is much higher than that for civil lawsuit, which is a preponderance of evidence.

"If it's the same facts and the same allegations, you don't have to retry the civil allegations," said Carlisle.

The Kealohas have pleaded not guilty and their lawyer Myles Breiner has called the allegations "fictions."

Both the civil lawsuit and the federal indictment allege that the Kealohas framed Puana and that four HPD officers took part in the conspiracy because Puana and his 98-year-old mother were involved in a heated legal battle with the Kealohas.

"We are suing the city in our case. They are the main defendant because this happened while these officers were all on duty," said Eric Seitz, attorney for Puana.

Seitz said the city is also the target of their civil lawsuit because it did not adequately supervise the chief and the officers.

"Where was the mayor in all of this? Where was the chair of the police commission?" Seitz added.

"They've been sitting on their hands."

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell has repeatedly said during the controversy that it's the Honolulu Police Commission's job to oversee the chief and the mayor's role is in appointing new commissioners, which he did.

But regardless of which city officials were responsible, any civil damages that might be awarded to Puana would come out of the same city treasury and will be paid for by Honolulu taxpayers.

And if the city is found liable, the damages could be considerable. The alleged civil rights violations included improper surveillance and harassment by HPD officers and the 60-days that Puana spent in jail on allegedly trumped up charges.

According to Seitz, the city has not responded to Puana's lawsuit, let alone filed an appearance in the case.

"Pretty soon we're going to find them in default and we'll see where it goes from there," he said.

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