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Fired state cop sentenced to 10 years for sex assault

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A former Department of Land and Natural Resources enforcement officer was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison for the New Year’s Day 2016 sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl on a beach in Hilo’s Keaukaha neighborhood.

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A former Department of Land and Natural Resources enforcement officer was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison for the New Year’s Day 2016 sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl on a beach in Hilo’s Keaukaha neighborhood.

Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura told 40-year-old Ethan Ferguson a prison term is the appropriate sentence in his case.

“While you were employed and on duty as a Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officer, you sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl. And in doing so, you took advantage of your position as a law enforcement officer,” Nakamura told Ferguson.

On Feb. 22, a 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, incident at Lalakea Beach Park.

During the trial, the victim, now 17, testified that Ferguson, who was on duty and in uniform, 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. She said Ferguson pinned her down with his body, pulled up her tank top and bikini top, and forced sex acts on her.

On the witness stand, Ferguson denied the allegations and said he was responding to a report of turtle harassment and “gave some education” to the teen, although he didn’t see her harassing a turtle. He said after he warned the teen, she kissed him on the lips, thanked him for not arresting her and kissed him again. Ferguson said he “kissed her back” the second time and admitted it was “inappropriate.”

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

The victim addressed the court Monday and said her life has changed dramatically.

“I enjoyed being in school, being involved. … Since this incident, I just haven’t been as happy. I haven’t been as close with my family. I have a hard time opening up with my family. … I know what I was doing that day was wrong,” the girl said before becoming visibly and audibly emotional.

“Not a day goes past that I don’t think about what happened. … I would just like him to serve the maximum,” she added.

When Nakamura asked Ferguson if he wanted to address the court, there was a 15-second pause before he replied, “No, sir.”

Deputy Prosecutor Haaheo Kahoohalahala requested consecutive sentences totaling 23 years “in order to protect the public from the future crimes of the defendant.” She said Ferguson, according to a pre-sentencing report, “exhibits thinking errors of a sexual offender” and “continues to steadfastly deny his most serious conduct.”

“The defendant … was not only a law enforcement officer … he also committed the … offenses, all five of them, when he was on duty,” Kahoohalahala said.

Ferguson’s attorney, Mirtha Oliveros, argued for probation, saying the incident was “a very complicated scenario … in ways the state still does not wish to acknowledge.”

Oliveros told the judge that since the trial, Ferguson has started mental health therapy and has taken a polygraph test.

“That polygraph indicated that there was no deception when he denies anything happened on the ground, that he did not push her. It also indicated that there was no deception when he denies penetration. Obviously —,” Oliveros said before the judge interrupted her.

“You know, that’s not what the questions are and the answers are, according to the polygraph examiner’s report,” Nakamura interjected.

“… The point is to emphasize is that it is clear that the story is far more complicated than has been presented by the state,” Oliveros replied. “… (Ferguson) is not someone who is a danger to society. … This is not someone who needs an additional wake-up call or who needs to go to prison in order to understand the path of his actions.”

Ferguson, who was fired for misconduct by the Honolulu Police Department before being hired as a DLNR enforcement officer in 2013, was placed on paid administrative leave until his conviction. He will have to register as a sex offender.

DLNR said in a written statement March 6 Ferguson had been terminated from his job and the department “has no further comment on this matter.”

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The Tribune-Herald doesn’t identify sexual assault victims unless they choose to go public.

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

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