The case of a missing mailbox that once belonged to Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha has taken dramatic twists and turns.
The criminal case against the man charged with destruction of the mailbox was dropped. Federal Judge Leslie Kobayashi granted the request from the U.S. Attorney’s office to dismiss the charge against Gerard Puana, the uncle of the chief’s wife.
In June 2013, in the dark of night, someone took the mailbox that stood in front of a home in Kahala that once belonged to Kealoha and his wife, Kathryn.
Puana was charged with destruction of the mailbox.
After Puana’s attorney, federal public defender Alexander Silvert, huddled with the U.S. Attorney’s office, it was decided that the government would ask a judge to drop the criminal case.
While he would not disclose specifics, Silvert said, “Some of the evidence came from things that the government had already turned over, putting together the dots, following the trail. Other was information we gathered through subpoenas and through our own investigation, and when you put it all together, I think it was a compelling story and a compelling case.”
The judge granted the dismissal with prejudice, which means the federal charge can no longer be re-filed against Puana.
But the case is far from over. Now, the FBI is being asked to look into how the police and others handled the initial investigation.
“I did speak with the agent assigned to this case, but we did not discuss where the investigation is going or how deep it will go,” Silvert said.
All the FBI would tell KHON2 was that a referral was made to its office Tuesday morning regarding alleged police misconduct.
On Wednesday, the Honolulu Police Commission will meet at police headquarters, and Silvert has asked commission members to conduct their own investigation.
Neither Puana nor Silvert will be present at the meeting. “No, because as I said, I’m not going to talk about the facts and circumstances underlying this case, because I believe that’s for the FBI to further investigate,” Silvert said.
“Something happened in the investigation that causes so much concern that it may be criminal or a violation of someone’s civil rights,” said Ken Lawson, a professor at the University of Hawaii’s Richardson School of Law. “That maybe the reason for referring this to the FBI for further investigation.”
KHON2 spoke to commission chairman Ron Taketa, who said that the commissioners will ask the chief in closed session for his view on why the case was dismissed.
Taketa added that the chief has kept the commissioners updated on the progress of the criminal case since he was to appear as a witness.
It was the chief’s testimony two weeks ago that forced the judge to declare a mistrial.
Kealoha testified that Puana was a convicted burglar. Under the rules of evidence, prior convictions cannot be used at trial to avoid prejudice against the defendant and, according to Silvert, the statement was not even true.
The police commission meeting on Wednesday starts at 2 p.m. at police headquarters. The agenda allows members of the public to testify with testimony limited to three minutes.