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Jury finds deputy not guilty of sexual assault charges

By Nelson Daranciang


State Deputy Sheriff Benjamin Fonoti was acquitted Tuesday of charges that he sexually assaulting a woman in custody last year at Hono­lulu District Court.

A state jury found Fonoti, 30, not guilty of second- and third-degree sexual assault after deliberating for less than an hour. The charges involved sex and sexual contact between a law enforcement officer and a person in custody.

Fonoti said he had no doubt he would be acquitted.

"I'm glad its finally over," he said. "It's come full circle since Dec. 19." 

That was the date last year that investigators informed him of the allegations.

The prosecutor, Deputy Attorney General Albert Cook, said it was a difficult case because it came down to the victim's word against Fonoti's.

"We put on a lot circumstantial evidence," he said. "But at the end of the day, I believe the victim. I'm not sure what the jury thought."

Fonoti's lawyer, Eric Seitz, was critical of the state's handling of the investigation and of its decision to prosecute the case, saying the accuser had serious credibility problems. He contends the woman's story was contrived and that she was motivated by money.

COOK defended the decision to prosecute.

"This was the right thing to do because we think it happened and we think it was Mr. Fonoti," he said.

The 47-year-old woman testified that Fonoti took her to the fifth-floor cellblock on Oct. 10 last year and sexually assaulted her. She filed a complaint 10 days later.

She was in custody for a restraining order violation.

The woman picked Fonoti from a photo lineup of all the deputies who were working at the court on the day she said she was sexually assaulted. However, her description of her assailant — a deputy with a tooth that sticks out and with ehu or bleached hair highlights — does not match Fonoti.

She also gave investigators the shorts she was wearing and said they contained a spot of her assailant's DNA.

Police DNA specialists testified that there was not enough DNA to reach any conclusions.

Defense expert David Haymer, a genetics professor at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine, testified that there was enough DNA to conclude that it didn't come from Fonoti.

Fonoti said the Transportation Security Administration fired him because of the charges. He said he hopes to get that job back.

He kept his state job through the investigation and trial, and the Department of Public Safety said it looks forward to Fonoti returning to full duty.

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MalamaKaAina wrote:
Are HPD and State Sheriffs actively searching for a deputy with a tooth that sticks out and with ehu or bleached hair highlights?
on December 19,2012 | 12:59AM
mrluke wrote:
I doubt it, since such a deputy probably doesn't exist.
on December 19,2012 | 06:30AM
loquaciousone wrote:
When the lights go dim because of too much chemicals in the brain, everyone looks like an ehu haired vampire.
on December 19,2012 | 12:03PM
Mythman wrote:
Funny, sad, I too know too many local people who fit this description, thanks to batu.......
on December 19,2012 | 03:18PM
omd111 wrote:
What a waste of time and money. Who would bring this to trial when 1. The description of the assailant didn't match the defendant and 2. A Genetics Professor said that there was DNA to conclude it didn't come from the defendant? Thanks for nothing Attorney Generals office!
on December 19,2012 | 04:53AM
OHHHH wrote:
My sentiments exactly.
on December 19,2012 | 06:13PM
bstnwhaler wrote:
Typical lolo - doesn't have a clue - perhaps Cook would be interested in buying land on the Big Island - below the volcano too.
on December 19,2012 | 05:37AM
loquaciousone wrote:
Careful now, he could be related to Captain.
on December 19,2012 | 12:03PM
mrluke wrote:
"...we think it happened and we think it was Mr. Fonoti" (?!) THINK it happened??
on December 19,2012 | 06:32AM
Grimbold wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on December 19,2012 | 11:30AM
Mythman wrote:
that will be the day......
on December 19,2012 | 03:19PM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
The complainant filed 10 days after the alleged incident took placed?? That should have tipped off investigators on her credibility.
on December 19,2012 | 07:10AM
matchosan wrote:
Now will the TSA re-employ Deputy Fonoti, with back pay included?
on December 19,2012 | 08:15AM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
Did they even have the accuser take a polygraph test given the circumstance? Now this man will have this whole thing on his records and it will stick with him for life. He already lost one of his jobs. He should sue that employer for unjustly firing him without due process.
on December 19,2012 | 10:08AM
loquaciousone wrote:
You can't sue the TSA for stupidity and lack of due process because their main function is to harass 86 year old grannies in wheelchairs and four year old children as possible terrorist.
on December 19,2012 | 12:05PM
Mythman wrote:
He should make the court order expungement
on December 19,2012 | 03:19PM
lowtone123 wrote:
Amazing that the state decided to prosecute a case that was based on circumstantial evidence and an accuser with credibility issues and her description was way off. Took less than an hour for an aquittal.
on December 19,2012 | 12:29PM
loquaciousone wrote:
It's called job security.
on December 19,2012 | 02:13PM
OHHHH wrote:
Albert Cook, I was able to sit in on several days of the trial and I would like you to know that you have made me lose any confidence in the Attorney General's office and their ability effectively and efficiently defend "the State and state officials against claims for violations of federal law, improper execution of state laws, or money damages for property loss, personal injury or death." You had no evidence and yet you allowed criminals to make a mockery of our Sheriff's department and court system. You wasted taxpayer money in pursuing a non-existent case. You have the nerve to speak badly against Benjamin Fonoti, even after he was acquitted. It shows immaturity and unprofessionalism on your part. Eric Seitz's out performed you on every level. He was eloquent, intelligent, and extremely professional. You, Mr. Cook, were out of his league.
on December 19,2012 | 06:06PM
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