A federal judge declared a mistrial on Thursday in a messy mailbox theft case involving Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife’s estranged uncle.

While on the witness stand, Kealoha said that the defendant, Gerard Puana, had a prior arrest for breaking into his neighbor’s house.

Puana’s attorney, Alexander Silvert, immediately called for a mistrial and said that revealing that detail could prejudice the jury by “completely destroying” Puana’s credibility.

It’s not uncommon for defense attorneys to fight to keep a client’s prior bad acts from being revealed during a trial for a separate crime. In fact, such issues are typically argued about in pretrial motions and hearings before a jury is ever selected.

Silvert told U.S. District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi, who is presiding over the case, that Kealoha should have known better given his extensive history in law enforcement and that his actions cannot be “undone.”

According to court documents, Puana is accused of stealing the mailbox from the chief’s house just before midnight on June 21, 2013.

Surveillance video from the home showed a man in shorts, long-sleeve shirt and baseball cap plucking Kealoha’s cast-iron mailbox off its post and putting it in the backseat of a sedan. In all, the theft took about 30 seconds.

But records show the case is much more complex, revealing a bitter family feud over money, a condo and the well-being of a 95-year-old grandmother who was forced to sell her home.

For complete background, read previous coverage of the case.

HPD Chief Kealoha during news conference concerning domestic violence on September 18, 2014

Police Chief Louis Kealoha finds himself in the middle of family feud after his mailbox was stolen last summer.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

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