State ignored HPD’s recommendation not to hire officer now charged with sex assault

Local News

A state law enforcement officer charged with sexually assaulting a girl was previously fired from the Honolulu Police Department.

Now we’ve learned the state hired Ethan Ferguson, 39, even after HPD recommended against it.

KHON2 received a statement Wednesday, in response to an inquiry from state Sen. Will Espero, that said HPD “specifically disclosed that he had been discharged from our department and that we did not recommend him for hire by the State.”

Marie McCauley, deputy chief of field operations, added, “To the best of my knowledge, no one ever contacted us for more information.”

No details were given as to why he was terminated after spending 12 years as a police officer.

Read the full statement below:

Aloha Senator,

HPD does give out information when it receives inquiries from prospective employers. In the Ferguson case, we specifically disclosed that he had been discharged from our department and that we did not recommend him for hire by the State. This information was provided to the State of Hawaii, Department of Human Resources in response to their inquiry in April 2013. We also provided our contact information should State DHR have any further questions. To the best of my knowledge, no one ever contacted us for more information. We believed at that time that he had not been hired based on the information we had provided.

We would have made the same disclosure if an inquiry had been made by a private employer as well as a governmental agency whether law enforcement related or not.

I hope this addresses your concerns and questions.

Marie McCauley

Deputy Chief Field Operations

Honolulu Police Department

Despite HPD’s recommendation, the state hired him anyway. For the past two years, Ferguson has been responsible for enforcing laws involving state lands, parks and shores.

“When you found that out, what were your thoughts?” KHON2 asked Espero, vice chair of the Senate public safety committee.

“My first thought was somebody really blew it in DLNR,” he replied. “Something motivated someone to take the recommendation of a county law enforcement agency on one of its former employees and basically disregard that suggestion.”

Ferguson was charged with five counts of sexual assault for an incident that allegedly occurred on Jan. 1 at Lalakea Beach Park in Hilo.

According to newly released court documents, Ferguson was in uniform and on duty when he caught a teenage girl smoking marijuana. He allegedly told her he would not turn her in if she gave him money, drugs or sex.

When the girl told Ferguson she had no money or drugs, and refused to have sex with him, he then assaulted her, court documents claim.

KHON2 contacted DLNR to find out why Ferguson was hired. On Wednesday, chair Suzanne Case released a statement, though our question went unanswered:

“We expect all our officers and staff to operate with the highest integrity.  Anything less is simply unacceptable, as well as unfair to the public and to DLNR.

DOCARE carefully reviews criminal records and all information provided prior to hiring selected candidates.   While we cannot comment on ongoing investigations, we are taking a look at all aspects of our hiring processes, particularly for law enforcement positions, to identify areas where heightened scrutiny can be added to ensure we have the best candidates possible for available positions.”

KHON2 has learned the state’s human resources department is improving its hiring policies for law enforcement positions, including double screening of applicants, more detailed reference check questions and revised interview and followup protocols.

Espero said leadership from all departments should also sit down with staff members “and make certain that they understand what needs to be done in cases where there is a negative recommendation.”

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