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Sex assault victim sues DLNR, fired state cop

  • ETHAN FERGUSON

A woman who was a minor when she was sexually assaulted by an on-duty state Department of Land and Natural Resources enforcement officer two years ago on a Hilo beach is suing the officer, since fired, and the state agency.

The civil suit, filed Dec. 27 in Hilo Circuit Court by attorneys Brian De Lima and Jeremy Butterfield, accuses the former Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officer, 41-year-old Ethan Ferguson, of assault, battery, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

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DLNR is accused in the complaint of negligent hiring, retention and/or supervision of Ferguson, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The victim, whom the Tribune-Herald isn’t identifying, is seeking unspecified general and special damages from both defendants, and punitive damages from Ferguson.

A Hilo jury took less than three hours to convict Ferguson of two counts of second-degree sexual assault and three counts of fourth-degree sexual assault for the Jan. 1, 2016, attack at Lalakea Beach Park in Hilo’s Keaukaha neighborhood. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and is incarcerated at Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona.

Ferguson will be required to register as a sex offender following his release from prison.

During the trial, the victim, who was 16 when the incident took place, testified that Ferguson took a pipe containing marijuana from her, led her to a secluded area at one end of the park, and gave her the options of “money, drugs or sex” to not arrest her.

The victim said after she replied she didn’t have any money or any more drugs and was unwilling to have sex, Ferguson pinned her down with his body, pulled up her tank top and bikini top and forced sex acts on her.

A Honolulu Police Department criminologist testified DNA matching Ferguson was found in the victim’s shorts.

Before he was hired in 2013 by DLNR, Ferguson was fired as a Honolulu police officer for misconduct. The lawsuit claims DLNR shouldn’t have hired Ferguson.

Pursuant to its own rules, the state’s largest law enforcement agency shredded Ferguson’s disciplinary files 30 months after the investigation that brought about his termination was initiated. According to an annual misconduct report to the state Legislature, he ran afoul of department superiors for falsifying documents and lying to supervisors about transporting a runaway juvenile girl.

The state acknowledges it knew Ferguson was fired but wasn’t given a reason for his dismissal, and a background check on him turned up no criminal convictions.

The Honolulu Police Department, however, said it told the state it shouldn’t hire Ferguson.

Ferguson is the son of Jackie Miyamoto-Ferguson, president of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the union representing DOCARE officers. A DLNR statement on Feb. 22, 2017, the same day the jury convicted Ferguson, said that “had nothing to do with his hiring as a Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) officer and we have no record of her being listed as a reference.”

According to the statement, the agency “has implemented changes to its vetting process for all new hires. This includes extensive background and reference checks, additional evaluation and training for both officers and supervisors, and closer monitoring by supervisors.”

After Ferguson was charged Jan. 8, 2016, with the offenses for which he was later convicted, the DLNR stripped Ferguson of his badge and gun and put him on paid administrative leave until his conviction.

DLNR spokesman Dan Dennison said in a Tuesday email the department’s “standing policy is we don’t comment on pending litigation.”

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De Lima’s office said Tuesday he was on vacation. A message left for Butterfield seeking comment wasn’t returned by press time.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.