A Honolulu police officer embroiled in a conspiracy case involving allegations of a frame job and cover-ups filed a legal challenge against the Police Commission on Friday, saying its members should have voted to pick up his legal tab in a related lawsuit.

Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen was indicted by the U.S. Justice Department last month for taking part in an alleged conspiracy to frame Gerard Puana for the theft of former police chief Louis Kealoha’s mailbox in 2013 and for lying to federal investigators.

Puana is the uncle of Louis Kealoha’s wife, Katherine, who is a city prosecutor.

Center, Bobby Nguyen arrives at District Court. Kealoha Case.
Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen, center, faces five felony charges for his alleged involvement in a police conspiracy. His attorney Randall Hironaka is on the right. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Puana had filed a federal lawsuit against the Kealohas and other alleged co-conspirators, including Nguyen, in connection with their attempts to send him to prison for stealing a mailbox.

State law says that police officers accused of crimes or implicated in lawsuits are entitled to have taxpayers foot their legal bills so long as they were acting in their capacity as law enforcement officers when the alleged offenses occurred.

In July, the Honolulu Police Commission voted 4-2 to deny Nguyen’s request for legal counsel.

In a legal challenge filed in state Circuit Court by his attorney, Randall Hironaka, Nguyen makes the argument that he was in fact working as a police officer when he was accused of the wrongdoing Puana alleged in his lawsuit.

If anything, Hironaka says, the lawsuit implied Nguyen could have been following orders.

“The Complaint clearly alleges that both Katherine Kealoha, a deputy prosecuting attorney, as well as Chief Kealoha, made misrepresentations to the assigned HPD officers. Coupling this allegation along with the Complaint suing Appellant in his official capacity as a HPD officer, and it is clear that the Commission erred in denying legal counsel to Appellant.”

In Puana’s lawsuit, Nguyen is accused of mishandling evidence, falsifying police reports and failing to properly investigate the mailbox case.

He’s also accused of breaking into Puana’s home with Katherine Kealoha and another police officer, Daniel Sellers, to steal $15,000 in cash, two knives, a memory card, clothing and hats with HPD’s logo on it that had been given to Puana either by the chief or his niece.

Nguyen has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges he faces in U.S. District Court.

Read his appeal here:

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