Honolulu police chief mailbox theft case dismissed

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HONOLULU (AP) — The criminal case against a man accused of stealing the Honolulu police chief's mailbox was dismissed Tuesday, about two weeks after the case abruptly ended in a mistrial and raised allegations about how the city's police department handled the investigation.

Gerard Puana's federal public defender provided copies of the dismissal order to reporters Tuesday morning, which a judge signed later in the day.

"We reached the decision to dismiss the charge in the Puana case after a review of all the information now available to us," said Elliot Enoki, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Hawaii. He declined to elaborate.

The trial against Puana ended in a mistrial soon after it got underway Dec. 4. Puana is the uncle of the police chief's wife, Katherine.

Chief Louis Kealoha was the second witness on the first day of the trial and was being asked about how he could identify Puana in blurry surveillance footage that showed a man hoisting the mailbox into a car last year.

Kealoha said the man in the video looked the way Puana looked when he was charged with breaking into a neighbor's home. His response prompted the judge to declare a mistrial.

Puana's public defender, Alexander Silvert, said Kealoha should have known better than to bring that up and that the chief intentionally caused a mistrial.

Silvert said he met with prosecutors after the mistrial and presented evidence he uncovered in the case. He said he also discussed with them that eight jurors told his staff after the mistrial that based on the video, they wouldn't have found Puana guilty.

"I did present that evidence to the prosecutors during our meeting, but whether that had any impact or not I have no idea," Silvert said.

Puana is relieved that the criminal prosecution against him is over, Silvert said: "To have a case, especially one that's already started trial, to be dismissed with prejudice, which means it can never be reopened or filed, is very rare."

Silvert has said the Kealohas framed Puana to discredit him in a lawsuit that Puana and his 95-year-old mother filed. The lawsuit claimed Katherine Kealoha stole money from them.

Katherine Kealoha denies taking money from her uncle or grandmother. The civil trial was to start this week but has been postponed to next month.

Gerald Kurashima, who represents Puana and his mother, Florence Puana, in the civil case, said he hadn't heard about the dismissal.

"It really doesn't have any bearing on the civil case," he said.

In his opening statement during the trial, Silvert said the case would expose police misconduct, including falsified reports and off-the-books surveillance. The police department handled the investigation and Puana's arrest before the case was turned over to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

The U.S. attorney's office asked the FBI to contact Silvert about how police handled the case, said FBI spokesman Tom Simon said. "Whether we choose to investigate it or not is not something that we discuss," he said.

Silvert said the FBI contacted him Tuesday and discussed meeting in January.

The chief declined to comment through department spokeswoman Michelle Yu.

"We're not in a position to comment at this time," said Greg Gilmartin, executive officer for the Honolulu Police Commission. He said the commission will be holding its regularly scheduled meeting with the chief Wednesday, and it's open to the public.


Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa.

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