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Assault will cost state $1.25M: Settlement reached in Hilo case involving DLNR officer

HILO, Hawai‘i — Companion bills in the Hawai‘i Legislature that appropriate money to settle claims against the state and its employees contain $1.25 million for a Hilo woman who was sexually assaulted when she was on a Hilo beach by a Department of Land and Natural Resources enforcement officer.

The victim, now an adult, was 16 on New Year’s Day 2016 when Ethan Ferguson, then a DLNR Division of Conservation Resources Enforcement officer, sexual assaulted her at Lalakea Beach Park in Hilo’s Keaukaha neighborhood.

A jury on Feb. 22, 2017, took less than three hours to convict Ferguson, then 40, of two counts of second-degree sexual assault and three counts of fourth-degree sexual assault. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in April 2017.

The victim sued Ferguson and the state in December 2017, accusing the DLNR of negligent hiring, retention and/or supervision of Ferguson, and negligent infliction of emotional trauma. The lawsuit was settled last year.

Ferguson was paroled on Oct. 17, 2023, according to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

On the witness stand during the criminal trial, the victim said she was smoking marijuana on the beach when Ferguson — who was on duty and in uniform — took her pipe from her, led her to a secluded area at one end of the park and said he’d arrest her unless she gave him “money, drugs or sex.”

She said Ferguson pinned her down with his body, pulled up her tank top and bikini top, and forced sex acts on her.

Ferguson denied the allegations, testifying that he responded 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.”

Before he was hired in 2013 by the DLNR, Ferguson was fired in 2012 for misconduct while he was a Honolulu police officer. The lawsuit claimed the DLNR shouldn’t have hired Ferguson.

Pursuant to its own rules, the Honolulu Police Department 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 Legislature, Ferguson, a veteran of a dozen years on the state’s largest police force, ran afoul of department superiors for falsifying documents and lying to supervisors about transporting a runaway juvenile girl.

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

The Honolulu Police Department, however, said it recommended the state not hire Ferguson.

Ferguson is the son of Jackie Miyamoto-Ferguson, who was president of the Hawai‘i Government Employees Association, the union representing DOCARE officers, when his son was hired.

A DLNR statement on Feb. 22, 2017, the same day the jury convicted Ferguson, said that it “had nothing to do with his hiring as a Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officer and we have no record of her being listed as a reference.”

The appropriations measures, Senate Bill 3029 and House Bill 2340, have both had their initial committee hearings and are moving through their respective chambers.

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Reporter John Burnett can be reached at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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