The state law enforcement officer arrested last week on sex assault charges was fired by the Honolulu Police Department, and police officials told the state they would not recommend the fired cop for the state job.
Ethan Ferguson, 39, has worked for the Department of Land and Natural Resources on the Big Island for nearly three years. He was arrested last week for allegedly sexually assaulting a teenage girl at a Hilo beach.
Before joining DLNR, Ferguson served for 12 years as an HPD officer. But he was fired after he transported a female runaway without authorization and altered another officer's name and badge number, Civil Beat has reported.
When he applied to the DLNR in April 2013, the state reached out to HPD's human resources department, which "specifically disclosed that he had been discharged from our department and that we did not recommend him for hire by the state," said Marie McCauley, HPD deputy chief of field operations, in an email.
McCauley said HPD also provided contact information for any follow-up questions. "To the best of my knowledge, no one ever contacted us for more information," she said. "We believed at that time that he had not been hired based on the information we had provided."
James Nishimoto, director of the state Department of Human Resources Development, told state Sen. Will Espero in an email that his office plans to beef up screening in the wake of the hiring, but did not say HPD didn't recommend Ferguson for the job.
He said the state reached out to HPD about Ferguson, and HPD officials confirmed the officer had been terminated. But, Nishimoto said, "Details regarding the termination were not provided."
Nishimito added, "Other references subsequent to the Honolulu Police Department confirmed satisfactory work performance by the individual."
Espero has raised concerns about the hiring, saying it prompts big questions about the state's application process.
"The state agency should have never hired this individual," said state Sen. Will Espero, (D) Ewa Beach. "What we know about the firing of Ethan Ferguson at HPD, is that he was fired for lying, falsifying information regarding transporting a teenager."
The DLNR has said it conducts criminal background checks of all law enforcement job candidates.
"DLNR is presently reviewing our records on the steps that were followed in the hiring process, to verify what information was provided to us," said Land Board Chairwoman Suzanne Case.
Ferguson isn't the only DLNR officer charged with assaulting a minor.
In 2014, a Kauai grand jury indicted former DLNR enforcement manager Tarey Low on 30 counts of sex assault. Low has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Many of the charges allegedly occurred while Low as still a DLNR employee.
Espero says in the wake of the Ferguson case, he plans to introduce a bill to keep track of all law enforcement officials who are fired on the job.
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