The lawsuit by the estate of Isabella Kalua says the state advocated her adoption by her foster parents despite multiple reports of suspicious injuries by doctors and others.

The estate of a 6-year-old Waimanalo girl who died from alleged abuse in perhaps the most notorious child welfare case in recent Hawaii history is suing her adoptive parents and the state for gross negligence.

The civil lawsuit claims both the Department of Human Services and Catholic Charities Hawaii — a nonprofit that reviews foster home and adoption placements — failed to investigate and intervene in child abuse allegations that caused Isabella Kalua’s wrongful death.

Her adoptive parents, Isaac and Lehua Kalua, have been charged with murder. They are alleged to have kept Isabella in a dog cage to keep her from seeking food at night because they didn’t feed her enough and covering her mouth with duct tape.

Waimanalo residents searched in vain for Isabella Kalua after her adoptive parents reported her missing. (Hawaii News Now/2021)

DHS and Catholic Charities Hawaii placed Isabella and her siblings with the Kaluas as foster children despite their criminal backgrounds, which included assault and a drug history.

While multiple reports of abuse were provided to DHS, both the department and Catholic Charities Hawaii endorsed the Kaluas effort to adopt the children they had been fostering.

The suit alleges that in 2019, DHS got an eyewitness report that Isabella was being beaten and starved by Lehua Kalua. “Without doing any significant investigation,” the department deemed the allegations “not confirmed,” the lawsuit states.

A month later, a doctor noticed bruises on the girl’s abdomen, hip, mid-back and thighs, which Lehua Kalua explained as being self-inflicted, according to the suit. A couple of months after that, the Kaluas failed for two weeks to report Isabella’s swollen fingers, which Lehua explained variously as the result of them being slammed in a door or being stepped on by one of her siblings.

Still another injury to her collarbone the following month was attributed by Lehua Kalua to “falling off monkey bars,” the suit states. The doctor alerted a state social worker about their concerns.

The suit alleges that Lehua Kalua explained a leg fracture in early 2020 as the result of Isabella falling off a trampoline.

Isaac and Lehua Kalua
Isaac and Lehua Kalua are facing murder charges in the death of their adoptive daughter, Isabella. (Honolulu Police Department/ 2021)

Despite all this, in February, 2020, DHS recommended to a Family Court judge that the Kaluas be allowed to adopt Isabella and her siblings, a move that was supported by Catholic Charities, the suit alleges.

The Department of Human Services and Catholic Charities Hawaii did not respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit was filed by three firms — Leavitt Yamane & Soldner, Potts & Potts and Rosenberg McKay Hoffman.

The suit says that the Honolulu Police Department used a video surveillance system to determine that Isabella was last seen in the Kalua house on Aug. 18, 2021, one month before she was reported missing by the Kaluas. When Isaac Kalua called in sick with Covid-19, the suit alleges, he was actually taking time off work to dispose of Isabella’s body.

The suit states that Isabella’s siblings were sexually abused by the Kaluas and possibly others.

Last month, a probate court judge declared Isabella dead, clearing the path for her estate and her siblings to sue for damages. The courts previously appointed Nicole Cummings as a legal representative for Isabella and her family.

Isabella, born Ariel Sellers, was first reported missing by her adoptive parents on Sept. 13, 2021. The pair was arrested in connection with her disappearance two months later.

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